Arjun Tendulkar
Former cricketer Sachin Tendulkar with his son Arjun Tendulkar Image Credit: ANI

The nepotism debate is back. This time it is centred on the cricket field with the IPL debut of Arjun, Sachin Tendulkar’s son.

That Arjun plays for Mumbai Indians is not a coincidence, he was bought in 2021 for Rs 20 lakh and retained for the next two years by the same franchise where his father played and whose jersey was retired along with the player.

The Tendulkars are the first father-son duo to play in the IPL, the son rise though has taken its time and these are still early days. Arjun has had to warm the benches for the last two seasons of the league before he was handed the cap in the match against Kolkata Knight Riders.

His bowling figures and pace though didn’t set the stadium on fire, it would have been an unforgettable statistic if not for his obvious connection, at least that is how favoritism manifests in thinking. But there is a flip side, he more than others knows his every run- up is being scrutinized, closely.

Arjun Tendulkar
Mumbai Indians' Arjun Tendulkar celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of Sunrisers Hyderabad's Bhuvneshwar Kumar (not pictured) during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Mumbai Indians at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad on April 18, 2023 Image Credit: AFP

Privilege isn’t always easy on the shoulders; the young cricketer is following the career footsteps of a legend whose shadow still looms over Indian cricket despite his retirement a decade ago.

There is comparison when other players compete only with themselves. Living up to high expectations under public scrutiny and in a cricket crazy country like ours can be daunting physically and mentally, ask Rohan Gavaskar who played for India but never closed in on his father’s- the great Sunil Gavaskar- records.

Entitlement and privilege?

Beyond cricket is our other obsession and Abhishek Bachchan comes to mind. A talented actor in his own right with some exceptional performances, he has struggled to shrug the tag of being Amitabh Bachchan’s son, such has been the aura of the OG of Indian cinema. It is not always fair to the one who came in later.

The benefits though are obvious. Doors open where otherwise they remain firmly closed. Pranav Dhanvade, the son of an auto-driver played cricket with Arjun Tendulkar and hit 1000 runs in an innings, whether that was a one off in a small ground- or he fizzled out, no one knows. The difference with an ‘outsider’ is also in making it into the conversation.

Sport however is a level playing field and there-in lies its goodness, talent ultimately drives a spot on the team. Arjun may have made his debut but holding on to his place in the team is about consistency and not connections and this is just the IPL.

Talk of favoritism though is myopic, it begins and ends with Bollywood but look closely and society per se is guilty of its infectious strain. The film industry is not just a soft power but also a soft target. What doesn’t help its image is that unlike in sports talentless actors continue to get roles tailor- made for them by industry insiders.

A clique exists

It is no secret that those who don’t make it to Koffee with Karan are ‘outsiders’- and star kids with no experience become lead actors overnight, Arjun Tendulkar on the contrary has been playing domestic cricket before making his debut.

But this story too has two sides, the nepo babies debate trivializes those actors who belong to film families but deserve a second chance and more purely on merit. Glamour calls for attention but across boardrooms in the country corporate India quietly goes about the same manual.

Big houses or small businesses, it is a tight circle. While an Alia Bhatt’s skills will be questioned, for Isha Ambani it is a rite of passage. The route is universal, some are competent; others just born into it.

The biggest use and misuse of privilege though stares us in the face. Politics and bureaucracy have given family business a whole new meaning.

The late historian and author Patrick French who did a study on the path of Indian MPs to the Lok Sabha wrote “a hereditary MP is not necessarily a bad MP - some are good, and all democracies have a few politicians who are following in the footsteps of a parent. The problem in India is one of scale.”

Prime Minister Modi has called out nepotism as a roadblock to progress in the country but political nepotism blossoms, across parties.

As condescending as the BJP has been of dynastic families in opposition parties, quoting an analysis by IndiaSpend, The Wire reported that the ruling party had a similar number of ‘dynast’ MPs as the Congress party in the last two decades. What works in its favour is that they are less visible than the Gandhi family.

In the Indian ecosystem, merit is as name and power does. The lack of it does not even strike us sometimes. Standing against the tide is not unknown. Will Arjun Tendulkar be an exception? Only time will tell.