Millennium Post

Bharat Ratna as a political tool

Like the removal of some of the governors appointed by the UPA and the bar on the appointment as private secretaries of those who had served under the previous regime, the choice of names for the possible recipients of the Bharat Ratna awards this year highlights the change of guard at the Centre.

The defining feature of the selection process is its anti-Congress slant even if some of those who have been named for the honour have a Congress background. However, it is their subsequent ideological and political tilt against the Congress which appears to have influenced the decision. Even the titan among the nominees, Subhas Chandra Bose, falls in this category for, in his later life, he had nothing to do with the Congress, of which he was once the president.

Another former Congress president whose name is doing the rounds is Madan Mohan Malaviya. But, the Narendra Modi government’s decision in his favour probably has more to do with the fact that Malaviya was also the president in 1923 of the Hindu Mahasabha, the forebear of the RSS-Jan Sangh-BJP as a Hindu supremacist outfit.

Nor is the saffron background Malaviya’s only claim to fame where the BJP is concerned. He was also a political adversary of the Nehru clan, whose policies ranging from Kashmir to a controlled economy are seen by the Hindutva camp as the root cause of all the country’s ills. As Motilal Nehru once noted: ‘It is simply beyond me to meet the kind of propaganda started against me under the auspices of the Malaviya-Lala (Lajpat Rai) gang. Publicly I was denounced as an anti-Hindu ... that I was a beef-eater’. It has to be remembered that the Congress at the time was even more of an umbrella party than at present with the rightists, centrists and leftists forming a part of it. E M S Namboodiripad, for instance, was in the Congress in that period. So was M N Roy, who was earlier associated with the Communist International.

For the purpose of conferring the Bharat Ratna, however, the BJP is choosing only right-wingers. One of them is Atal Behari Vajpayee, who is acquiring the stature of one of the party’s icons if only because he no longer poses a threat to the new generation of leaders because of his retirement from public life.

However, it is worth remembering that Vajpayee has never been an archetypal saffronite because of his moderate views which is why he was called the ‘right man in the wrong party’ while the fiery Sadhvi Rithambara described him as ‘half a Congressman’ at the height of the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation. Ironically, it was Vajpayee who wanted to dismiss Modi from the post of Gujarat chief minister after the 2002 riots and attributed the BJP’s defeat in 2004 to the outbreak.

While these candidates are all right-wingers, Kanshi Ram, whose name has also figured in the speculations, is known more for casteism than any ideological inclination based on social orthodoxy or economic direction. Yet, if his name has been mentioned, the reason is the saffron establishment’s desire to reach out to the Dalits, whose messiah of the moment, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s leader, Mayawati, has suffered a political setback because of her failure to make full use of her one-party majority in the UP assembly between 2007 and 2012 for the social and economic betterment of her core constituency.

Since the Congress has also lost its earlier electoral trump card of a Brahmin-Muslim-Dalit combination, the time is ripe for the BJP to pluck the low-hanging fruit of Dalit votes. And, what better way than to honour the person who made them a formidable force in Indian politics. Even if Kanshi Ram does not get the posthumous award this time, the BJP will keep his name in mind for the future.

What is noteworthy, however, is how the title has come to be conferred mainly with a political objective in mind rather than as an honour which is instantly recognised as a distinction which has no political calculations behind it and is based purely on merit and as a token of the nation’s gratitude. It is the quest for political dividends which the families of some of the recipients find offensive. Hence, perhaps the refusal of Netaji Subhas Bose’s kin to accept the award.

It is also odd that the Modi government has harked back to the past for the sake of the awards instead of searching for someone who is active in the various social, educational and scientific fields who deserves it. Last year, for instance, the medallion was given to Professor C N R Rao, a scientist, and in the two previous years, to the music maestros, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Ustad Bismillah Khan.

As the BJP’s appointment of a virtually unknown ‘historian’, Y Sudarshan Rao, as head of the Indian Council of Historical Research shows, the saffron brotherhood’s acquaintance with the country’s rich cultural and scientific world is limited. Hence, it has fallen back on known figures in politics. IPA

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