Of late, the award of Bharat Ratna and other prestigious awards by the government are being questioned by some pseudo-seculars in the country. Instead of getting carried away by the misguided minds, we should celebrate the true spirit of the awards
A melodious song from a Kannada movie of yesteryear goes something like this: “Let a Bharat Ratna be born whom Hindustan would never forget…”
The hero sings this song to the baby in heroine’s womb. Later when the baby is born and understands life, the heroine sings the song to her child asking it to tread the path of righteousness to become a great human being, an able leader, philosopher and thus a Bharat Ratna. Needless to say, the lyricist never meant Bharat Ratna in his song as the country’s highest civilian award, and instead, it simply meant ‘A Gem of Bharat’, one who could be a real hero whom the next generation should emulate.
A Multifaceted Artist Bhupen Hazarika (September 8, 1926- November 5, 2011)
These days people want to ‘make’ anyone a Bharat Ratna rather than he or she deserving one. A Bharat Ratna, a just person, should be born and identified but not necessarily in my home. He might as well be born to our neighbours. That has been our ethos for long. Being a nationalist, patriot, artist, humanitarian, a social worker may fetch less income, but the transformation their work would bring in the society is worth more than the money, That has been the attitude so far.
After the Bharat Ratna for this year was awarded to three eminent personalities – Pranab Mukherjee, Nanaji Deshmukh, Bhupen Hazarika posthumously, slowly but steadily voice of negativity has started being heard in the country. While a few wished the former President for being conferred the highest civilian award, feeble voices have grown shrill. Even historian Ramachandra Guha tweeted that Pranab was not the right candidate and it would not fetch BJP the votes in West Bengal. A Bharat Ratna to M S Swaminathan would have garnered more votes for the BJP than choosing the ex-President, he opined.
Former President Pranab Mukherjee
Some politicians opined Mukherjee was awarded as he had visited RSS headquarters last year. Laughing away their despicable mindsets might be the best way to react. Such comments in the public domain is not only disturbing but also disrespectful to the contributions of the person to the country. Had a Congress-led government at the Centre awarded Bharat Ratna to Mukherjee and had Mukherjee not attended the RSS event, would it probably have been the most deserving award? On that particular allegation of Mukherjee having attended the RSS event and the same being a qualification for the award, it is worth noting that RSS has its camps organised every year at the state level. These camps have a valedictory ceremony, and the chairman would be a distinguished personality from the society. Ratan Tata, Azim Premji of Wipro, Radhakrishnan of the ISRO have all been chief guests at such camps. Have all these distinguished personalities got an award from the government?
Now to dwell upon Guha’s statement and many others who think that the Bharat Ratna to Mukherjee was to woo the voters of Bengal is a hollow argument. Pranab Mukherjee has been with the Congress ever since, and there are no signs that he will switch loyalty to BJP. Having held the highest office of the country, he might not even get into election campaign mode. The people of Bengal voting for BJP is a hollow argument. He happens to be the sixth President to have been conferred the award. The stature of Mukherjee and his contributions to the Indian politics are considered and he was selected after due diligence. The myriad ministries he has handled, without a prominent family background and has held the top office with professionalism has entitled him. The relation between the president and Government was never at loggerheads and they complimented each other during work. In 2017, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh revealed how he got the PM’s berth and admitted that Pranab Mukherjee was more apt for the post than him.
German woman Friederike Irina (Sudevi Mataji) who dedicated life to cows gets Padma Shri
It is time that people stopped indulging in this kind of debates. Now that the awards have been announced and if the BJP does not secure enough seats in Bengal, will the Bharat Ratna be stripped of Mukherjee? Ideally, the final say in this regard would be that Pranab Mukherjee joins the elite league of Bharat Ratna awardees who have rendered exemplary service to the country.
The fact of the matter is the Prime Minister of the country makes the recommendation to the President of India on Bharat Ratna. Also, it is ironic that former Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, and his daughter, Indira Gandhi recommended themselves for a Bharat Ratna during their tenure as Prime Minister of the country and the recommendation had been forwarded to the then Presidents for approval. The demise of Rajiv Gandhi earned him a Bharat Ratna too, posthumously. On the contrary, it took decades for Dr B R Ambedkar and Sardar Vallabhai Patel to be conferred the same award, albeit posthumously.
Nanaji Deshmukh retired from active politics at the helm of his political career stating that he was 60 and that even government officials should retire at 60. As a result of his decision, he dedicated his life entirely to social work and started Saraswati Vidya Mandir which today has over 30,000 branches all over the country. A clean politician and who was close to his opponents as his politics was not of the nature to disrupt but to bring in a change in the system has been appreciated through Bharat Ratna. Today, we have many politicians who cannot understand the idea of Nanaji’s Gramodaya, as they want jealously to cling to political power and money, by hook or by crook. They wouldn’t even hesitate to introduce their sons and daughters through the backdoor into politics to maintain a stranglehold on power.
He could be considered as another man from RSS background but should not be judged just as that without knowing him and his contributions completely.
Bhupen Hazarika was a playback singer, lyricist, musician, singer, poet and film-maker from Assam and had the great distinction of popularising the folklore from Northeast. Well, some see it as a move to secure vote bank from North East, without understanding the depth of his art and his service. Without considering his contributions to the revival of tribal culture and music, criticising him on the award is not justified.
The reason behind such debates is not tough to find. We have had the freedom of expressing dissatisfaction of government’s performance, policy, stand on defence and what not. The award also stands as a matter of such a discussion in the public domain, and there is no effort made in understanding the contributions of these great people to the country. We end up putting two people on the same scale and casually and loosely compare them.
Just after Dr Shivakumar Swamiji of the Tumakuru’s Sri Siddaganga Mutt passed away recently some politicians from the state and so-called activists said that there would be a Rail Roko if Siddaganga Swamiji is not conferred the Bharat Ratna. Some Congressmen from Karnataka also started to cry foul as Dr Shivakumar Swamiji’s name was missing from this year’s Bharat Ratna awardees list. Well, there could be several reasons why Bharat Ratna was not conferred on Swamiji and it should not be forgotten that it was just 4 years ago he received the Padmashri after being recommended for the award by the same Prime Minister, Narendra Modi! For long when Congress ruled the country, they had not considered him for an award, and it is to be noted that Swamiji’s service to the country through his ‘anna dasoha’ (free food) and ‘jnana dasoha’ (free education) has been ongoing for decades.
Many opined that if the award was given to Swamiji then winning a large number of seats in Karnataka in the General Elections would be more comfortable as the Lingayats would show gratitude for the award conferred. This too is an unsubstantiated theory. As said earlier, people are hell-bent on having their idols receive awards while the idols themselves are working tirelessly in the society to bring in necessary change and are not bothered of being awarded. A welcome statement was from Siddeshwara Swamiji of the Siddaganga Mutt who said that Dr Shivakumara Swamiji never worked for any awards.
For a person of the stature of Siddaganga Sri and the service he rendered, he was bestowed with the sobriquet of “Walking God” by his disciples. Common people bestowing ‘daivatva’ (Divinity) to a person from ‘manushyatwa’ (human form) is itself such recognition, and any award would be minuscule in comparison to the work and spiritual life Swamiji led.
MP Asaduddin Owaisi went a step ahead and questioned how many Dalits and Muslims had received Bharat Ratna. The whole world sees no caste of the people who receive awards, but crooked minds look at it this way to disturb communal harmony. It seems as though demanding awards based on caste, religion is the new way to look at the awards. Given this scenario, even if Dr Shivakumar Swamiji is conferred Bharat Ratna later, some may instigate an argument in the society as to how many Brahmin swamijis, Kuruba swamijis or Vokkaliga swamijis have received the award. Hence the society should distance itself away from people with such depraved thinking and also shun such debates in public domain. One becomes a gem of the country for his
service and not due to the caste he/she represents.
A few years ago, immediately after the new government took over the reins, the fad of Award Wapsi started. Many returned the awards they had received decades ago citing ‘intolerance’ in the country as the reason. Most returned the awards in full media glare but never bothered to return them to the right authorities or return the prize money that came with the award. In fact, it was a display of their intolerance against an elected government, but the awards were returned to some other organisation! Any award given has to be accepted gracefully and one has to be magnanimous. While the well-rehearsed ‘Award Wapsi’ drama did not last long, it ought to be remembered that as a public figure return of any awards is not an embarrassment to the issuing authority but to the admirers who had idolised them.
Be it Bharat Ratna or any award for that matter, accepting them graciously is also an art. Gita Mehta who stays in New York and is the sister of Naveen Patnaik was conferred the Padma Shri. She declined the award citing that during the election season, accepting the award could be misconstrued. Gita’s work has fetched her the award but how it could be misconstrued has to be explained only by her.
A very pleasing aspect of Padma Shri this time was it went to ten farmers from nine states who have given their best for preserving traditional farming. Some of them have practised organic farming and a few are into progressive farming. Now that they have been awarded the Padma shri, should we argue that it was to woo farmers’ votes or does it have a broader scope of motivating many in their village to grow organically? There are two gau sevaks Friederike Irina (Sudevi Mataji) and Sayyed Shabbir who also have been conferred the Padma Shri. Should it be construed as appeasing the minorities or was it to showcase their achievement to the entire country?
It is time we accept these highly deserving awards and awardees with grace and elegance they deserve rather than stoking controversy on every move of the government.
(The writer is a software engineer and convenor of VSK Karnataka)