Awards and acrimony

Ranabir Ray Choudhury | Updated on March 12, 2018

MS: A real gem

Is the Bharat Ratna given with a view to playing political games?

A controversy appears to be swirling around the conferment of the Bharat Ratna — the nation’s most coveted civilian award “for performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavour” — to Sachin Tendulkar, one point of view being that it was given with the Lok Sabha elections in mind.

The argument goes like this: since, in terms of the electoral situation, the Congress finds itself with its back to the wall — as indicated by the opinion polls — it has tried to please the people by giving the award to Tendulkar, in the hope that some of the feel-good sentiment may rub off on the party at the hustings.

Since politics has permeated every aspect of national life, we cannot peremptorily dismiss this surmise. This is not to suggest that Tendulkar’s contribution to cricket is not worthy of the Bharat Ratna. After all, he has set a number of cricket records that will rule the roost for quite some time. Hhis cricketing exploits — which, incidentally, have also earned him a record fortune — will remain unmatched. It is, of course, sad that no other Indian sportsperson has been perceived to be worthy of the Bharat Ratna — given our population.

No. 43

Tendulkar is the 43rd recipient of the award, the first being C. Rajagopalachari, the first (and last) Indian Governor-General of independent India, in 1954. The second was C. V. Raman, the 1930 Nobel Prize-winner for Physics (also in 1954). The third recipient (in 1955) was Vice-President S. Radhakrishnan.

Of India’s 13 presidents, five were conferred the Bharat Ratna — Rajendra Prasad, Radhakrishnan, Zakir Hussain, V. V. Giri and A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. Of the 13 prime ministers, six were given the award: five belonged to the Congress party, and three were members of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Among the WINNERS

There have been scores of chief ministers since Independence, but just four have got the award. They are B. C. Roy (West Bengal, 1961), K. Kamaraj (Tamil Nadu, 1976), M. G. Ramachandran (Tamil Nadu, 1988), and Gopinath Bordoloi (Assam, 1999).

The posthumous list is 11-strong, the first being Lal Bahadur Shastri (1966) — for whom, in fact, the ban on giving the award posthumously was lifted. Bordoloi was the last, getting the award 49 years after his death. Vallabhbhai Patel received it 41 years later, B. R. Ambedkar and Abul Kalam Azad 34 years later, and J. P. Narayan 20 years later.

Subhas Chandra Bose was given the award posthumously in 1992 but it was later withdrawn because of a “legal technicality”.

Satyajit Ray, M. S. Subbulakshmi, Ravi Shankar, Amartya Sen, Lata Mangeshkar, Bismillah Khan and Bhimsen Joshi are some of the ornaments of Indian culture to adorn the Bharat Ratna hall. But, like in the world of sports, they are just a drop in the ocean of excellence in our country.

In such circumstances, allegations of unfairness are bound to crop up. It is the duty of those who involved in the process of selecting the awardees to put the entire exercise beyond reproach.

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Published on November 21, 2013
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