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National awards: the secular connection

National awards: the secular connection

Author: Saurav Basu
Publication: Blogs.Ivarta.com
Date: February 9, 2009
URL: http://www.blogs.ivarta.com/National-awards-Secular-Bharat-Ratna/blog-248.htm

Bharat Ratna is the highest civilian award for national service. The order was established by Dr Rajendra Prasad, President of India, on January 2, 1954. Today, there are 41 Bharat Ratna winners in India, the last being Bhimsen Joshi. And yet, there are noticeable absentees. Mahatma Gandhi, the most conspicuous but since he was already elevated to the "father of the nation", his posthumous soul automatically opted out of the race. But there was no Sardar Patel either, the iron man of India until 1991, despite the fact that the provision to award the Bharat Ratna posthumously was enacted way back in 1955. This provision was probably made to confer the award on Sardar Patel. But Nehru"s profound ideological and personal differences with Patel came in the way. Patel was intrinsically a man who connected to the masses unlike Nehru"s Anglicized condescending approach. Patel was an uncompromising nationalist with an "India first" approach without any pretensions to internationalism, soviet mania and "Hindi-China bhai bha at the expense of the right to self determination of the Tibetan people". Patel sternly objected to minority appeasement in a divided India, Nehru started the farce of "Haj subsidy" but did not contribute a single paisa towards restoration of the Somnatha temple. Patel defended the "right to property" as an inviolable fundamental right and found intolerable the partially communist ethos of Nehru. Patel gave a clean chit to RSS in the Gandhi murder case, while Nehru in true totalitarian fashion incarcerated thousands of RSS workers in jail on the basis of guilt by association ( Nathuram was an RSS member more than 10 years before he killed Gandhi. He left the organization because he did not find it militant enough). Indeed, what prevented an open rupture between both these men, in the admission of a left leaning historian Ramachandra Guha"s words "was mutual regard and Patel"s stoic decency"

Yet, Nehru gleefully conferred the Bharat Ratna on himself in 1955 with the full blessings of Rajendra Prasad and other obsequious Congressmen. This paved the path for sequential undermining of the credibility of the state awards. Nehru had little to show as positive achievements when the entire country mass was mired in poverty, illiteracy and backwardness, a situation which consistently worsened until death forced Nehru to abdicate his throne in 1963. He left India more poor and more backward, confesses Walter Crocker in his "Nehru: a contemporary estimate" L K Advani in his memoirs perceptively notes that "The process of undermining democratic consultation and decision making within the Congress had begun with Nehru himself. He often defied the party"s decisions, it was also Nehru who had planted the seeds of dynasticism in the party by consciously grooming his daughter as his successor. She triumphed in her battle against her adversaries, but, in the process, she wrote the epitaph of democracy inside the Congress Party" Indeed, the most enduring legacy that Nehru left behind is the Gandhi family.

C Rajagopalachari another scion of the Congress family and India"s last governor general, who incidentally was one of the first Congress leaders to find merit in the two nation theory (see Dhananjay Keer, 1966) was also conferred the Bharat Ratna. But of course, Shyama Prasad Mukherji, the man who single handedly through his supreme self sacrifice forced the communal administration of Sheikh Abdullah to abolish the provision of two heads of state and replacement of the sadar-e-riyasat (head of state) system with the usual governorship in vogue elsewhere was denied the same. In fact, Nehru far from taking moral responsibility for Mukherji"s demise in the prison of his childhood friend Sheikh Abdullah, refused to even order an inquiry into the death of the martyr when everyone suspected skeletons in the latter"s cupboard.

Indira Gandhi continued the grand family tradition by emulating her father self conferment of the Bharat Ratna in 1971. Until the 1980s, almost 85% of the Bharat Ratna awardees were either full time Congresmen or their foot soldiers. The others included Nobel Prize laureates, two non Indians and few apolitical scholars. No man critical of the Congress in his lifetime could ever hope to win the prize in life or death. B R Ambedkar in 1991, is a notable exception because of the beginnings of dalit mobilization. Interesting, Rajiv Gandhi won the award more on sympathetic grounds than any positive contribution. In fact, his irresponsible statements after his mother"s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards had tragic consequences. His flip flop in the Shah Bano case proved the paramountcy of votebank politics in his political career. Similarly, the deployment of the IPKF in Sri Lanka which cost the lives of thousands of distinguished Indian soldiers is unpardonable.

Other awards have fared hardly any better. Their rampant political abuse has continued unabated as exemplified by the case of Pranab Mukherjee, the 2nd in command being conferred the Padma Vibhusan in 2008 for displaying his incessant and unwavering loyalty to Sonia Gandhi.

The political abuse of the national awards is also reflected in the fact that several scholars and academicians who push an academic line favourable to the "secular" politics of the Congress have been consistently rewarded for their services. For instance, Ramachandra Guha"s BJP Bash has made him the apple of the eye for the Congress party and he was compensated with a Padma Bhushan in exchange of his services. Mediamen like Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt have won the Padma Sri because of their undying commitment to the "secular" cause! Sister Nirmala"s missionaries are found suitable while selfless Hindu organizations like the Ramakrishna Mission who serve the nation in a spirit reflecting the Hindu way of life are excluded. All in all, the absence of a "secular" connection makes you a persona non grata in the eyes of the Indian state irrespective of your actual service to the nation.

The record of Atal Behari Vajpayee in this regard stands out in stark contrast. In his tenure not a single Bharat Ratna was awarded posthumously to any Hindu activist, not even stalwarts like Shyama Prasad Mukherje, V.D.Savarkar or Deendayal Upadhyay. Showing exemplary maturity, Vajpayee understood that the national awards would be trivialised and devalued if they became instruments of politics. After all, the awards carry any meaning only when even your bitterest opposition despite mutual differences voluntarily recognizes your services to the nation. Reason says that any party line relationship, common ideological dogmas or bias for an individual or organization in the race for the award should instantly render one a non adjudicator in the selection process. But the quid pro quo political obligations being gratified through state awards is a manifestation of the perversion of India"s political parlance.

Advani had recently requested the Congress party for conferring the Bharat Ratna to Vajpayee for his lifetime contribution to Indian politics and successfully leading the first non Congress government but his dignified proposal was met with a barrage of asinine objections from the "secularists". Today, Atal Behari Vajpayee is in a critical condition and it is doubtful if he would ever receive the Bharat Ratna in his lifetime. But the irony is that there is no other Indian still alive who is more eligible and yet more justifiably deserves the same.

(Author is an independent researcher, and freelance contributor based in New Delhi, India)

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