India's sporting fraternity on Monday got behind Sachin Tendulkar and lambasted Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray for criticising the batting maestro for his 'Mumbai is for all' comment.
In an interaction with the media on completing 20 years in international cricket, Tendulkar had said, "I am a Maharashtrian and I am extremely proud of that. But I am an Indian first. And Mumbai belongs to all Indians."
Thackeray criticised the statement saying, "There was no need to take a cheeky single by making these remarks. By making these remarks, you have got run-out from the "pitch" of Marathi psyche."
"You were not even born when the 'Marathi Manoos' got Mumbai and 105 Marathi people sacrificed their lives to get Mumbai," Sena mouthpiece 'Samana' quoted Thackeray as saying.
The BCCI was the first to react to Thackeray's statement with its Finance Committee chairman and spokesperson Rajiv Shukla saying that the Shiv Sena chief was talking like Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
"These kind of comments are completely uncalled for. Shiv Sena people have no business to talk like this. Tendulkar is a nationalist. He is for Maharashtra, he is for India. If somebody calls himself an Indian, is it a crime?" he fumed.
"No Marathi will support Shiv Sena if they talk in these terms. Tendulkar has spoken like an Indian, like a nationalist. They don't understand this. In order to get some votes, they are trying to provoke feelings. These people should be brought to book," Shukla added.
"Maharashtrians don't like such utterances. Only a handful of people will support this. Majority of them won't like this. They want to be called Indians first", Shukla said.
Thackeray said Tendulkar "left the crease and moved to the pitch of politics by making these remarks which have hurt Marathis".
To this Shukla retorted, "This is the same language that Mohammad Ali Jinnah spoke. Whole of India and all Maharashtrians, excluding a few Shiv Sena leaders and leaders of Raj Thackeray's party, are with Tendulkar."
Former cricketers and athletes from other sports also backed Tendulkar and his comments.
Sprint legend Milkha Singh said Tendulkar didn't say anything wrong.
"Politics is something else and sports something else. Tendulkar has merely said that country comes first. The states you play from is secondary. Don't mix politics and sports. I am very happy with what Sachin has said," he said.
Former cricketers also came out in support of Tendulkar.
"He has made a very simple statement and any Indian will say the same thing. Everybody knows Sachin is a Maharashtrian.
Just leave Sachin out of it. Sachin has done a lot for our country. He is one of the greatest ambassadors for the country. He has been a non-controversial person for so many years. He is a simple human being," said former chairman of the selection panel Kiran More.
"He is playing for his country and that has exactly what has motivated him to get the record," said former Indian captain Ajit Wadekar. PTI