Cricket icon and Rajya Sabha MP Sachin Tendulkar earns about Rs 100 crore in endorsements every year, promoting various products from cement to toothpaste. But when it comes to promoting the Indian Air Force (IAF) which recently conferred on him the honorary rank of Group Captain, Tendulkar has no time to spare for his role as IAF’s brand ambassador. A senior IAF officer told The Sunday Standard: “We never heard from him (Tendulkar) after that (granting of honorary rank).” The IAF was considering bestowing a similar rank on badminton star Saina Nehwal after she won an Olympic bronze at London; she flew in the trainer aircraft Kiran Mk-II as part of a promotion exercise. Subsequently, the IAF was all praise for her, but Tendulkar’s indifference to the honour has prompted a rethink. “We have decided not to give honorary ranks to anybody from now on,” said the officer.
It is accepted practice for the Armed Forces to confer honorary ranks on eminent sportspersons to boost their image and inspire young people to come forward and serve the country. In spite of the growing clamour even among Tendulkar fans for his retirement, the ace player has no time to bat for the country’s air force. The other stars given honorary ranks by the Army include former India cricket skipper Kapil Dev (LtCol in Territorial Army), Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra (LtCol), cricket skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (LtCol) southern superstar Mohan Lal (LtCol). Congress MP Sachin Pilot recently joined the Territorial Army as a regular recruit: he will be training with the force for two months every year. As an IAF Group Captain and unofficial brand ambassador, Tendulkar was expected to make time for promotional events and campaigns.
The IAF had made Tendulkar a honorary Group Captain on September 9, 2010—a first for any sportsperson. Tendulkar, was also supposed to fly in the frontline Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter jets along with the skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. But the nation’s cricketing heroes seem to have forgotten about the flight. All this after Tendulkar posed in a flying suit, helmet in hand, with a Sukhoi for the IAF’s 2011 calendar, and the air force requesting—and getting—special permission from the defence ministry to allow the flight.
The IAF is understandably peeved. “The IAF has more serious business than flying Tendulkar,” a senior IAF officer said on condition of anonymity. The duo were supposed to undertake their separate flight at Pune’s Lohegaon Air Force Station where the two Sukhoi squadrons are based.
VVIPs like Ratan Tata, former president APJ Kalam and President Pratibha Patil have donned flying suits in the rear seats of some of IAF’s best fighters.