A case against posthumous Bharat Ratna
First, four bullets inspired by the JD(U)’s call against Bharat Ratna being given to living persons, borne out of their annoyance with a spate of Sachin Tendulkar endorsements:
1. There can be no logical or legal bar in stopping the cricketer from earning an honest day’s living. As a retired sportsman, the obvious things he can/might do are commentary, endorsements, and appearances. While endorsements and appearances are bound to have a product we like or we don’t, even commentary will be interspersed with commercials, which theoretically amount to a spillover endorsement from Tendulkar.
2. Related is the blunt fact that Tendulkar didn’t ask for the Bharat Ratna. A grateful nation, with ample help from MP Rajeev Shukla notwithstanding, gave it to him.
Any post-facto curbs on Tendulkar (non-existent at present against endorsements, or paid appearances) are likely to be struck down in court.
It is therefore upon him, not the government of the day, to ensure that for the remaining years and decades of his life, no commercial entity succeeds in affixing ‘Bharat Ratna’ to his endorsements. If that happens, it will be a clear violation of the national awards code – something hundreds of Padma awardees have been getting away with, but Tendulkar might not.
Even here, a moment’s reflection would tell us that books by Nobel laureates, for example, boldly flash their investiture and even sell more than they might have before the anointment even though the contents were exactly the same. So, theoretically, stopping him from being cited in, say an autobiography, as ‘Bharat Ratna Sachin Tendulkar’ may fall flat against the constitutional right he has to earn his livelihood.
3. To hammer another nail on the JD(U) demand, the guidance available in the note sheets regarding selection of awardees should be pulled out by an RTI. The note sheets will confirm what former cabinet secretary and author TSR Subramanian remembers: ‘…the award be given during the lifetime of the awardee, wherever possible; ….wherever not possible, the awardee should be given soon after his/her death;…(and) it is advisable that the committee does not go too far back in time.’
4. With ever lowering credibility of governments in power, a better idea is to create a collegium. The present system enable the ministry of home affairs to create a shortlist, then have cabinet secretary and a committee appointed by the government of the day decide among that shortlist – the PMO having unfettered right to add anyone to the original MHA shortlist. This has made the list of Padma awardees, if not Bharat Ratna yet, a capture of folks who are close to VIPs. Hint: 26 out of 127 Padma awardees this year were, er, medicos!
If and when a collegium is set up, here’s why we must continue to oppose posthumous awards. Before Sachin Tendulkar and CNR got it, a posthumous Bharat Ratna was becoming a force of habit. Out of 41 awarded before them (42, if we include the ‘posthumous’ one to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in 1992, which the award committee had to withdraw after failing to satisfy the supreme court), 13 were given during the prime ministership of Jawaharlal Nehru. Not one of them was posthumous! Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad was offered the Bharat Ratna before he died in 1958, but he refused on moral grounds and the investiture was done in 1992 – 34 years after his demise. Nehru forgot at least three giants: Vallabhbhai Patel (recognised only in 1991 – 40 years after his demise), Subhash Chandra Bose (detailed above) and BR Ambedkar (recognised in 1990 – 35 years after his demise in 1956). But I feel it was a good thing in the balance of interest.
Remember, Nehru’s was a time when the doyens of the freedom movement were alive. Also, from Bal Gangadhar Tilak to Bhagat Singh, even Gandhi-ji, hadn’t died a century ago. If Nehru had rolled the clock back 45 years ago, like his successors were to do, the list of Bharat Ratna could have had several hundred, may be even Ashoka, Gautam Buddha and Akbar. That was another time and the PM too much of a rationalist to be honouring the dead.
The same is true for the Nobel Prize. You can win it only while you are alive – the only exception is if you kick the bucket in between the nomination and the award.
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