All the jazz about awards
It is indeed sad that the country’s highest award – Bharat Ratna – has been politicized and mired in controversies for being used to reward people for specific service rendered or being turned into a bait to lure caste or regional based support. If the highest honour of the land has to be restored to its intended glory, the award has to be delinked from politics and the process of selection of the recipients needs to be made transparent.
Kanshi Ram’s name is floated for the award not because of his work for uplift of Dalits but because honouring him would consolidate the BJP’s outreach to the Dalits and enable the BJP to make inroads into Bahujan Samaj Party’s support base. Even former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has not been spared. BJP sources say that honouring Kanshiram and Vajpayee will send a strong message among both Dalits and Brahmins—the two traditional vote banks of the Congress.
A section in the BJP feels Kanshi Ram doesn’t deserve the honour given his strident criticism of the Sangh Parivar. Dalit leadership within the BJP says though Kanshi Ram was the founder of Bahujan Samaj Party, his legacy cannot be appropriated by a single party.
In recent years, the Brahmins have gravitated towards the BJP in north India. The 2014 Lok Sabha elections saw many Dalits voting for the BJP, particularly in Bihar where Dalit leader Ram Vilas Paswan was an ally of the BJP. Dalits are electorally significant in nearly all states, particularly across the Hindi heartland, as also in Punjab and Haryana.
BSP founder Kanshi Ram’s sister Swaran Kaur, 70, and brother Harbans Singh 68 have said ‘self possessed’ Mayawati has been stonewalling their request to make a formal pitch by the party to seek Bharat Ratna for the Dalit icon. They charged that the BSP was refusing to make an official submission for the highest civilian award for Kanshi Ram despite several requests made by them in a letter to the Prime Minister. ‘We wrote to her twice and to the UPA government in 2009 and 2012 for award of Bharat Ratna to our brother for his work for Dalit upliftment. But Mayawati refused to put up BSP’s official representation with the PMO and the President in this regard.’
In view of the raging controversy, it would be better to drop the name of Kanshi Ram from the list of probables for the Bharat Ratna. Otherwise also, Kanshi Ram, in spite of following among Dalits, has not reached high enough stature to be decorated with the highest award of the land.
The first recipients of the Bharat Ratna were politician C. Rajagopalachari, scientist C. V. Raman and philosopher Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who were honoured in 1954. Since then, the award has been bestowed on 43 individuals including 11 who were awarded posthumously. The original statutes did not provide for posthumous awards but were amended in January 1955 to permit them. In 1966, former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri became the first individual to be honoured posthumously.
In 2013, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, aged 40, became the youngest recipient while social reformer Dhondo Keshav Karve was awarded on his 100th birthday. Though usually conferred on Indian citizens, the Bharat Ratna has been awarded to one naturalised citizen, Mother Teresa in 1980, and to two non-Indians, Pakistan national Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in 1987 and later to former South African President Nelson Mandela.The most recent recipients are C. N. R. Rao and Sachin Tendulkar who were honoured in 2013.
The Bharat Ratna, along with other personal civil honours, was briefly suspended from July 1977 to January 1980 during the change in the national government and for a second time from August 1992 to December 1995 when several public-interest litigations challenged the constitutional validity of the awards.
In 1992, the government’s decision to confer the award posthumously on Subhash Chandra Bose met with controversy. Due to the debate surrounding Bose’s death, the ‘posthumous’ mention of Bose was much criticised, and his family refused to accept the award. Following a 1997 Supreme Court decision, the press communiqué announcing Bose’s award was cancelled; it is the only time when the award was announced but not conferred.
The government indicated on Tuesday that it was considering conferring the Bharat Ratna on Dhyan Chand. The home ministry has forwarded several recommendations to the PMO for awarding the legendary hockey player. It is now up to PM Narendra Modi to forward his name to the President.
In reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju said, ‘The recommendations for the Bharat Ratna are made by the Prime Minister to the President of India. Although no formal recommendations for Bharat Ratna are necessary, recommendations have been received from several quarters for Bharat Ratna for Late Major Dhyan Chand. These recommendations have been forwarded to the Prime Minister’s Office.’
Speculation is rife over the identity of this year’s Bharat Ratna awardees. Two names discussed most frequently are those of freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and of senior BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee.