The Bharat Ratna is the highest civilian award of the Republic of India. Instituted in 1954, the award is conferred “in recognition of exceptional service/ performance of the highest order”, without distinction of race, occupation, position, or sex. The award was originally limited to achievements in the arts, literature, science, and public services, but the government expanded the criteria to include “any field of human endeavour” in December 2011.
The award lost its sheen when at least two Prime Ministers who set up panels to consider the names awarded themselves. Though sports was kept out of the purview, the norms were amended particularly to honour Sachin Tendulkar, the cricket icon, who has come under flak for his appearance in commercials and seeking favours from the government on behalf of his friends, seeking waiver of import duties on his expensive cars, seeking defence ministry’s indulgence in favouring his friend’s construction in the defence plots. Latha Mangeshkar another Bharat Ratna awardee, on the other hand has stonewalled the construction of the Peddar road flyover, threatening to leave India. The government quietly shelved the project of public importance to save its embarrassment.
I must hasten to add that I have the utmost personal respect for the above two persons, but fail to note their exceptional service to the nation. There have been greater artists and singers in our illustrious long cultural calendar, who may have outdone Latha. Virat Kohli, if he keeps the form could outdo Sachin. Does it mean that each time a new benchmark is created, bettering the records of any Bharat Ratna awardee, he or she should automatically be considered for Bharat Ratna?
I look with utter disbelief as o what selfless service Rajiv Gandhi could have made, other than dying under sad circumstances. Every President and all the prime ministers and chief ministers are performers because of the position they occupy and a careful thought should be made if they should forever be excluded from these kinds of awards.
Service to the nation need not merely mean popularity. Many awards have been political like the one that was conferred posthumously on MGR, the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu. If Sam Manekshaw, a General (then), who had won our war with Pakistan in 1971 has not been awarded Bharat Ratna, if Verghese Kurien, the milkman of India, turned our country around from a milk deficient country to the largest milk producer, improving the livelihoods of millions of rural folk, if Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, who saved the country from the brink of famine and disaster by ensuring a green revolution, have failed to satisfy the merits of being considered for the Bharat Ratna, the awards, to me, have no meaning.
The clamor and pulls have made the awards a mockery. RTI reveals that the lesser level Padma awards have become a laughing matter, celebrities jostling and pushing for their kin.
The preamble had run long. My point was to express my anguish on the sudden chorus of proposing the name of a Rajinikanth for the highest award, as I see in the TV today. If Salman is next acquitted in the hit and run case, considering his popularity, will there be a noisy attempt to award him too?
Even God may find it difficult to save this country.