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Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan - Do we need civilian awards?

By: K Parthasarathi
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By leaving the job of choosing the highly meritorious to the respective fraternities, we would have rendered unto Caesar, things that are Caesar’s with no room for allegations of favouritism.

When I saw that a TV media had started a preposterous debate whether Bharat Ratna award should be conferred on youngsters like Sachin Tendulkar instead of going for the obvious (I do not know what they meant by the obvious- do they say oldies?) a thought came to my mind whether these civilian awards fashioned after the system in UK can be dispensed with once and for all.. Janata government under Morarji Desai had very wisely suspended this during late Seventies for three years. The grant of awards to loyal people was a colonial custom and a relic of the past that we also decided to follow suit. There is the innate urge in us to distinguish ourselves from the common crowd with a visible distinction in the form of a ribbon on our coats or a medallion hung on our necks along with a title. Bharat Ratna is the highest civilian award given for highest degree of national service (italics mine) that includes artistic, literary, and scientific achievements, as well as “recognition of public service of the highest order.” Padma Vibhushans, Padma Bhushans and Padma shris are lower in the order. These awards in a few cases smack of arbitrariness and state patronage on chosen people by the government of the day. They have no monetary value except in pleasing the vanity of the individuals and conferring possibly some precedence in protocol during public functions.

Why should the government distribute awards each year? Why cannot this business of recognition be left to the highest bodies in the chosen areas? Many countries in the West have for long ceased giving civilian awards and left the task to the professional bodies. A deserving musician can be honoured with the highest title by an all India musical body and a cinema actor or those associated with films be conferred recognition by all India forum related to that field just as an Oscar award is being given at the international level.. We have our own Sangeet Natak Academy. Literary awards like Booker prize are chosen by a panel of eminent writers, scientific recognition by Nobel Committee and exceptional cricketing skill by Wisden.We have our own national equivalents for these bodies. Why should the State tread into such areas especially when they hardly have the expertise to evaluate the contributions objectively? Can we for a moment accept that literary awards if given by government would be free from bias? In a coalition set up where the government at the centre is wholly dependent for survival on regional satraps, does it have the strength to resist the pressures from them for their nominees? There would be a clamour for region wise quota and possibly based on political colour and loyalty to the ruling clique. By leaving the job of choosing the highly meritorious to the respective fraternities, we would have rendered unto Caesar, things that are Caesar’s with no room for allegations of favouritism.Let the government be content with selection of governors and other political appointments and give a wide berth to other areas. It is time they put an end to this hardy annual ritual that creates more heartburn than satisfaction. This would save the bitter acrimony amongst different groups, academics, industrialists, IT, writers, film personalities, sports personalities, artists, medical profession etc.No government can satisfy the hunger for recognition of the "public service minded’ men and women and the system runs the risk of turning into an unedifying benefaction..

A Sachin Tendulkar may be a great cricketer and a highly visible personality made so by media and sponsors for their own commercial purposes. It is a moot point whether playing cricket for money is a public service. It will be a lamentable disservice to scores of doctors, human rights activists, officials, social service organizations,NGOs and many more such who silently toil giving their invaluable time and money to give better lives to the teeming millions with no expectation of reward or recognition. No TVs will blare for them or media write about them for these personages have no use to increase their TRP or circulation. Likewise a Narayanamurthy or a Ratan Tata or an Ambani is basically a businessman or industrialist who worked for the benefit of his companies. There was no national fervour or public goal in their efforts any more than a shop owner of a kirana store. If their companies had not succeeded, they would have closed their shops and gone to do something else. They have worked for creating the wealth they needed and succeeded just like a Bill Gates or a Ford or a Lakshmi Mittal elsewhere…...udhara nimitham bahu kruta vesham as it can be termed. It is a different matter that a Bill gate is spending a large portion of his wealth for philanthropic causes and may merit special recognition for that purpose. Where is the national service in others running a business except the benefit to the society coming as an incidental off shoot? Let not the government play to the gallery by pandering to the wishes of the canaille by considering for the highest award to a sportsman or a filmy folk or one of such ilk.

Only those who have worked for the welfare of the country in a spirit of sacrifice and service and make the lives of its people better and rich can be considered worthy of any recognition. A Teresa or a Vinobha Bhave gave so much but took very little. There are many like them doing their work silently and effectively unsung and unhonoured.They will never be visible in the radars of the powers that be. They also attach scant regard for name and fame. Even politicians, except those who participated in the freedom struggle sacrificing their careers and families, do not qualify for recognition.Politics these days is a lucrative profession. It may surprise that more than fifty percent of Bharat Ratna awardees are drawn from the political class.Quite a lot of officials too have obtained these awards. Before considering someone for an award, the first litmus test would be how much he/ she has contributed to the society in making the lives of ordinary people even slightly better without enriching themselves in the process. Nothing else matters. Their service should preferably be honorary.

Now each political outfit like BSP, SP, DMK wants the highest honour given to its leader and with their political clout in disturbing the stability of the government,the award runs the risk of becoming a political sop instead of a well considered and highy deserving recognition. The best course would however be doing away with these meaningless civilian awards.

K Parthasarathi

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