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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2429

Playing Football With Bharat Ratna

By Allabaksh - Syndicate Features

Politicians, generally not famous for their love of sports, have been accused of playing football with the Bharat Ratna (BR) nominations. While they have awarded it to a cricketer (Sachin Tendulkar), they are said to be seriously considering the name of a legendry hockey player, Dhyan Chand. In this medley of sports, the sufferer is the country’s highest civilian award. Many think it lost its prestige and sheen long ago when people began to suspect that there was more of politics than merit behind the award.

Opinions may differ on when exactly the Bharat Ratna awards started attracting controversy. India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, is alleged to have nominated himself for the award in 1955, a year after the BR awards were instituted. Ditto for Indira Gandhi when she was prime minister, though it is said that the then President V. V. Giri took the decision in the wake of Bangladesh war in 1971.

Many have questioned how Gulzarilal Nanda became eligible for the BR award. It could not have been a consolation prize for him because twice he was the acting prime minister of the country, holding fort after the demise of the incumbents. As for his contributions in social and political fields, among his contemporaries there was no dearth of great freedom fighters.

Since the Congress party has ruled India far longer than any other party, it bears the brunt of criticism for ‘politicising’ the BR and the lesser ‘Padma’ awards. But the other parties which ruled the country cannot escape this charge either. It can be said with near certainty that from now onwards till it remains in power, the BJP will be looking to bestow the honour on figures it reveres. That will include a good number of members of the ‘Sangh Parivar’, both from the past and present.

Voices have been raised that the BR award, if not the entire gamut of civilian awards, should be scrapped because some of the recipients (of the lesser ‘Padma’ awards) are known to have misused it. Unsavoury controversies chased some others. But it is very unlikely that the Bharat Ratna (and the ‘Padma’) awards would be consigned to history books.

One of the reasons is that there is a long list of candidates who politicians of different hues would like to see decorated with the Bharat Ratna award, not to mention the inexhaustible list of ‘Padma’ aspirants. The current controversy over the scramble for the Bharat Ratna nominations has thrown up at least five names, though not more than three can be honoured with the BR in a year.

On top of the list is Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former prime minister and arguably the tallest among the contemporary BJP leaders. For a long time the BJP has been making a pitch for Bharat Ratna for Vajpayee, only to see rejection by the Congress which had ruled the country for 10 years, till May this year heading the United Progressive Alliance. Now that the BJP is in power, it probably thinks it is its duty to fulfill that wish without any further ado.

But a lot of ado is already in evidence. Not so much because of Vajpayee’s name figures in the list of the likely Bharat Ratna recipients, but because of the other names, particularly that of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. It is not the first time that Netaji’s name has cropped up for the BR award and he continues to be held in high esteem by Indians. His name spells controversy for what may be called a technical reason, though his relatives say the reason is that he is far above any award.

If Netaji is indeed awarded the BR it will be in the category of ‘posthumous’ awards. That is at the root of the trouble. Although he has been ‘missing’ for 70 years after his plane reportedly crashed in Taiwan, no Indian government has ever declared him dead officially. Inquiry committees set up to probe into his “disappearance” have submitted reports but, again, the contents have not been made public. His ‘death’ remains mystery. In the meanwhile, many Indians refuse to believe that he is dead—at least that will be the inference because till a few years ago the media used to be full of reports about people meeting or seeing someone who they thought was Netaji.

In 1992, Netaji’s name for the BR award was announced by the government but it had to be dropped after it generated the familiar controversy about his being dead or alive. So, for technical or sentimental reasons, Netaji’s is unlikely to be among the BR recipients.

If many in the country think that the BR awards have been devalued it is because they believe that political considerations, or expediency, is behind the nomination for the BR awards, even when people have nothing against the person chosen for the award.
A case in point is that of Sachin Tendulkar, the cricketing ‘legend’. Till he was chosen for the BR award last year, no sportsperson was given the highest civilian honour. The country’s highest civilian honour is given for ‘exceptional service towards advancement of art, literature and science’ and in recognition of ‘public service of the highest order’. Obviously, sportspersons could not be in the reckoning, especially the ones who are counted among the richest in the land.

But a way was found to bestow BR on Sachin Tendulkar. What is more he was also nominated to the Rajya Sabha, which being an out and out political arena was an alien territory for Tendulkar.

Critics said that the then ruling party (Congress) was hoping to cash in on the popularity of Tendulkar; his image as the most liked sportspersons in India, however, failed to help the Congress at the hustings, as was to be expected. And Tendulkar had to face the embarrassment of being accused of showing disrespect to his role as Rajya Sabha member by remaining absent for long periods.

What the Tendulkar episode illustrates is that while the question of retaining or abolishing the BR (and Padma) awards is debated, the criterion for the nomination and the method of selection has to be free of narrow partisan considerations. After all, the idea behind these awards is to honour and show respect for the ‘outstanding’ contributions made by the recipient in various fields. It will be a petty if any fingers are to be raised in the selection of the personalities for the ‘prestigious’ awards.

- Asian Tribune -

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