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Issue No.: 559 | January 2014

High Time to Abolish Governmental Awards

Kashinath A. Divecha
All demands were for Bharat Ratna, nothing less. Under such circumstances, the only consolation one could derive was that no one asked for the award for herself or himself!!

It is rather sad that the latest bestowal of much coveted highest governmental award – Bharat Ratna – has created a controversy. For, questions are being raised by people, including a PIL in Madras High Court against the conferment of Bharat Ratna on Sachin Tendulkar, on the grounds that though he was the most versatile and brilliant amongst our batsmen, the same cannot be termed public service of highest order, the prime criterion for Bharat Ratna, and that such conferment unfortunately amounts to devaluation, if not cheapening, of Bharat Ratna award itself.

Ignominious Precedent

Again, this is not for the first time that such a thing has happened. If one goes through the list of Bharat Ratna awardees over the years, one name that stands out is that of Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Once upon a time she was the Prime Minister of India for eleven plus four, that is, 15 years. But she is still remembered for the imposition of fake and "constitutional” emergency to hold on to her Prime Ministership. No wonder, during that period, the press of the free world had labeled her as "Empress of India”. For, she had the temerity, if not arrogance, to maintain in an interview with one of the established and long standing British newspapers that she was destined to rule India. Yet, she was conferred the Bharat Ratna, ignoring the historical fact that she had trampled upon Indian democracy for selfish reasons.

Looking back, it can justifiably be stated that this conferment was nothing but devaluation of the Bharat Ratna award itself. 

Raising Basic Issue

In this context, if one remembers, some five years ago, Lal Krishna Advani had raised the basic issue about granting of Padma awards as also the Bharat Ratna by the government. It is true that these awards have been used by the governments of the day to distribute petty patronage eagerly, confer condescending recognition grudgingly and bestow honour rarely.

It will be recalled that immediately after his letter "recommending” Bharat Ratna for our ex-Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, came to light, there was an unseemly and unending scramble for the awards from all quarters, projecting the names of persons, long gone or fortunately still with us, who have had their innings in public service. Looking at the recommendations then made, it was observed that everyone wanted "The Best”. All demands were for Bharat Ratna, nothing less. Under such circumstances, the only consolation one could derive was that no one asked for the award for herself or himself!!

In short, this mad rush in itself clearly indicated two things. One, the sponsors obviously did not attach much sanctity to the awards, and two, precisely for this reason, the recommendations kept coming with a sort of abandoned glee.
Need to Consider Seriously

Therefore, it is high time – we as a nation are nearly 66 years old now – to be wise and mature and seriously consider the desirability of this convention, practice, system, scheme, or whatever you might call it, where the government grants awards, in spite of our Constitution prohibiting such conferment or bestowal.

Let us be realistic. Any person, who reaches the pinnacle in his own field of activity is invariably and inevitably eulogized by the people in the same field of activity in the best possible manner they can as they know the value of the contribution made by that person in that field. She or he is the Leading Light there – without the patronage of the government and sometimes in spite of the government. Look around and you will observe that each and every field of activity and all groups in society have their own way of honouring the best individual among them.

Only one example should suffice. One leader, who was otherwise known as Vallabhbhai Patel, was given the title, award, honour or whatever you may call it, of Sardar out of spontaneous love years ago. He was neither in need of any award by the then government, nor was he dependent on any Ratna by subsequent government. He is still honoured by Indians as Sardar Patel. In other words, for Sardar Patel the Bharat Ratna is superfluous, if not meaningless.

Abolish the Awards

Basically, in an open, free and democratic society, the business of honouring the individuals should best be left to the people themselves, instead of the government jumping into the circuit, mainly to provide patronage. Moreover, as citizens of a republic we should under no circumstances be supplicants or servile, and definitely not before the government. In any case, the basic fact remains that the government as such has no competence to independently judge on its own, the quality and importance of the contributions made by individuals in their respective fields. What happens is that it gathers the recommendations from all and sundry, and then picks and chooses names. We should, therefore, consider whether it is prudent to subscribe to such national – rather, governmental – game of non-musical chair. Obviously, this "Lucky Draw” system needs to be abolished.

Since the governments go by the precedents, it is recommended that the authorities concerned look back to late 1970s. Morarji Desai and his government during its short tenure had done the right thing by refusing to distribute these devalued awards.

It was a sagacious decision.

KASHINATH A. DIVECHA, retired trade unionist and social activist, Mumbai






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