Who should be given the Bharat Ratna?

By Manisha Singh | Updated: Nov 19, 2013, 21:15 PM IST

India’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna, to one of the country’s greatest sportsman, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, has opened a Pandora’s Box. It has led to a debate in the country as to why hockey legend Dhyanchand and former prime minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were not conferred with the same award and it has also led to questions being raised as to why the Congress was in such a tearing hurry to bestow the Bharat Ratna on the batting legend.

The announcement that the Little Master would be given the highest civilian award of the country was made as soon as Sachin had bid a tearful adieu to international cricket after playing for India for 24 years. He had also made millions of his fans cry for whom it was difficult to believe that the Master Blaster would not be donning the India colours again. Given the fact that Sachin has been loved by millions in this country, the fact that he has been the flag-bearer of Indian cricket for more than two decades and the fact that he has been nation’s pride and its true ambassador at the world level, it can be said that he is a true recipient of it.

Thus, while no one would question as to why Sachin was given the award, people who are questioning its timing or reason why Major Dhayanchand was not considered to be the first sportsman to be its recipient do have a point. While every Sachin fan will say that he is already a ‘Bharat Ratna’, I am sure they will also say that they would have not minded if the man who took Indian hockey to great heights was given the award before the Little Master. In fact, one can also say that may be Sachin too would not have had a problem with receiving it after Dhyanchand, even though he has said that it was a huge honour for him to get it.

To be noted is the fact that in the case of Bharat Ratna, there is no jury. The PM recommends a name to the President and the latter has to accept it. So, did the government take the decision just because it was populist in nature? Was the decision by the Congress-led UPA government all about timing given the fact that emotions were running high all over the country because of Sachin’s retirement? And does it all boil down to a beleaguered government, faced by charges of scam, corruption and policy paralysis, looking for an escape route and using everything in its armour to fight a decade of anti-incumbency?

The argument may seem far-fetched but it is not improbable. Especially if one considers the fact that not too long ago, the Sports Ministry had categorically said that there was no way that Sachin would get the award before Dhyandchand. One must admit that there had been a clamour for Sachin to be given the Bharat Ratna for some time but then so has been for the one of the biggest name in hockey, who won successive Olympic gold medals in Amsterdam in 1928, Los Angles in 1932 and Berlin in 1936 for the country. Apart from requests from many quarters, Hockey India had also requested the Sports Ministry for the prestigious award for the iconic player.

Moreover, in January 2012, the Sports Ministry had recommended the award for Dhyanchand and had left Sachin out of the race as the BCCI had not sent his name. To make sportspersons eligible for the award, the Centre initiated the process to amend the rules in 2011 and considering the fact that people from other walks of life including politicians were in the realm of the eligibility criteria, it was a welcome decision by the government. So, would the best way out have been to bestow the honour to both Sachin and Dhyanchand at the same time?

However, questions are being raised at not only why Dhyanchand has been ignored. The chorus has also become shrill regarding former prime minister of India and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the country’s highest civilian honour. The BJP while maintaining that they were happy at Sachin being given the award, questioned as to why their leader and ‘one of India’s most popular PM’ was ignored.

Not only the BJP, its former allies, the JD(U) and the National Conference too backed the party’s demand. Both Nitish Kumar and Farooq Abdullah said that Vajpayee deserved it as he was a great leader. The Bihar CM at the same time also made a strong pitch for Ram Manohar Lohia and former CM of Bihar, Karpoori Thakur. And they were joined by Congress leader and Union HRD Minister Pallam Raju.

While it is debatable as to whether Vajpayee should be conferred the coveted honour or not and whether the BJP has raised the issue so that the Congress does not gain brownie points with General Elections 2014 around the corner, those who say that the Bharat Ratna has lost some of its sheen over the years are not too way off the mark.

Questions as to why was India’s first Home Minister Sardar Patel, whose contribution in unifying the country after partition in 1947, is unparalleled was given the Bharat Ratna more than 40 years after his death and why was India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru bestowed the honour before him have often crossed minds of citizens like me. Plus, I also wonder if someone who declared Emergency in the country and who took away democratic rights of the people almost resorting to dictatorship was worthy of the award. I am talking of India’s former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

And what was former PM Rajiv Gandhi’s contribution to the nation in the five years that he ruled to have deserved the highest civilian honour of the country is also a question that rankles the mind. Is the answer too obvious – the award will go to every member of the Gandhi family as they are the ones who have been India’s ‘rulers’?

But there is another aspect to it - given the fact that the Congress has ruled the country more than any other party since independence, it has more to answer than other political parties as to whether the criteria for giving the award has been fair at all times.

It also has to answer as to whether the criteria for giving the Bharat Ratna or for that matter many other awards that the government doles out has at times to do with which political party is in power and who is lobbying for the awards and for whom. Till those who are the decision makers do not have answers for the above questions and till the criteria for giving the awards are not made totally transparent, questions will always be raised on the motive and the timing of the award announced by the government of the day.

Please Note: This article in no way belittles some of the past recipients of the awards who most will say deserved it. Names like Ustad Bismillah Khan, Ravi Shankar, Lata Mangeshkar, Amartya Sen, APJ Abdul Kalam, Satyajit Ray, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Nelson Mandela are names who have had immense contribution in their field and have made a difference to the world around them. Not to forget the cricketing genius Sachin Tendulkar, who gave us innumerable reasons to smile.