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Politics with ‘Bharat Ratna’

Politics with ‘Bharat Ratna’
First of all, why Bharat Ratna for Sachin? Is Tendulkar’s achievement bigger than those of internationally acclaimed physicist Prof. Satyen Bose of Bose-Einstein theory fame and Homi Bhabha, father of India’s atomic energy programme, who did not merit Bharat Ratna? At only 41, Tendulkar is the youngest person to be recommended for the coveted award. The only other person to receive Bharat Ratna before reaching 50 was terror-attack victim former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The award was given to him posthumously by the Narasimha Rao-led Congress government in 1991 when he would have attained the age of 47. Incidentally, all the three former prime ministers from the Nehru-Gandhi clan received Bharat Ratna – Jawaharlal Nehru when he was 66 and Indira Gandhi at 54.

The unprecedented act of the Congress-led UPA government has not only lowered the profile of the award, but it is also being interpreted by a large section of the country’s intellectual fraternity as a last ditch attempt by the Congress party to catch the imagination of the youth, especially young and first-time voters, in the run up of five state elections to be followed by Lok Sabha polls. If that is so, it ought to be a highly unethical act and deserves to be condemned to the same fate as the lately aborted ordinance to allow convicts to contest elections and hold public offices.

Earlier this year, when several top sportsmen, sports administrators and politicians pitched for hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, three successive Olympic hockey gold medal winner for India, it was turned down by the government without assigning any specific reason. Dhyan Chand is the country’s best Olympian ever who ruled the world hockey scene for almost 15 years with his magical stick movement. The grapevines say that the Congress strategists preferred Tendulkar’s current popularity to internationally acclaimed Indian hockey wizard Dhyan Chand who, with the passage of time, does not ignite much passion with the modern youth as India has long lost its dominant position in world hockey. If at all, the use of Tendulkar’s youth appeal for election gains must be the crudest form of political calculations. The suspicion is that the poll strategists in the Congress party may have used the opportunity to cash in on the mass hysteria gripping the nation around Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement to strike a chord among young voters.

Top national or international honours, barring probably Nobel peace prize, is seldom awarded to people in their mid-life. The reason is that an achievement must stand the test of time. It must have a lasting impact on the society. Public entertainment, to which modern big-money team sports such as football, basketball, cricket, volleyball, hockey, etc. belong, is a fast changing industry where only current form of performers matters. Critics are already talking about some of the present day talented young Indian cricketers such as Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara, who hold the promise of surpassing Tendulkar’s records. Their on-field aggression with batting and fielding have placed India as a formidable cricketing side. There is no negativism in their approach to the game. They are there to win matches and set new records for India and not just to achieve personal milestones.

The most debatable issue concerning the choice of a Bharat Ratna awardee is that whether professional entertainers such as film stars, sports persons, commercial brand endorsers, beauty queens and super models should really qualify for the top civilian award. Tendulkar’s on and off-field performance as a commercial brand endorser has earned him millions. He is said to be personally worth $166 million, equivalent of about Rs 1,000 crore. Compare Tendulkar’s cricketing and commercial success with the achievements of Professor Chintamani Nagesa Ramachandra Rao, one of India’s top scientific minds and an institution builder whose work on solid-state and structural chemistry has contributed to the enrichment of global scientific knowledge on the subject that earned him 60 honorary doctorate citations from universities and institutes across the world. In an extremely thoughtless and insensible act on the part of the government, the 79-year-old internationally-acclaimed Indian scientist was clubbed with Tendulkar for the announcement of 2013 Bharat Ratna award. Rao started his scientific career in India for a salary of only Rs 500 per month. When he retired from the active scientific job, he might have been receiving a monthly salary of less than Rs 30,000.

The clubbed announcement of Bharat Ratna award to Rao and Tendulkar on the same day projected Rao’s achievement much less compelling than Tendulkar’s as Rao’s mention figured as an ‘also’ receiver in the national media. It was Tendulkar’s day of reckoning. Rao was so disenchanted with the government’s left handed compliment that he openly called politicians an ‘idiotic’ class.  Nobel laureate C V Raman and Prof A P J Abdul Kalam, former President of India, were only two other scientists bestowed with the award. Rao might have been pained on that day for another reason – the memory of other top Indian scientists, whose contribution to science was much bigger than his, had to be satisfied with only Padma award.

What would one worth the rating of so-called Bharat Ratna when much bigger scientists such as Professors Satyendra Nath Bose, linked with Bose-Einstein theory, Homi Bhabha, father of India’s atomic research programme, Meghnad Saha, Vikram Sarabhai were not even considered for the award? Imagine Tendulkar made to stand tall above all those scientific stalwarts. Rao can’t be blamed for the plain speak? Did any prime minister consider awarding Bharat Ratna to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who too was assassinated like Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in independent India?

Few will disagree that the Bharat Ratna selection process itself is fundamentally flawed. Like almost everything else in India in which the government plays the pivot, Bharat Ratna too has been reduced to a title of controversy crafted by politicians in power.

IPA
Nantoo Banerjee

Nantoo Banerjee

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