Besides the news of the extravagant unveiling of the Nano at the auto expo, and endless discussions on cricketers and racism, something else has been occupying a considerable space in the news columns. Our politicians are clamouring for attention from the media yet again and have succeeded in attracting eye balls towards a fresh controversy; one on over who should be this year’s recipient of the Bharat Ratna. This is issue is not unusual. In fact, it has cropped up several times in the past. The award, usually conferred on the eve of the Republic Day, unfailingly provides the political parties an opportunity to contend and compete as they put forward their candidate for this prestigious honour. Yet again, the hunt for India’s pride, the most suitable personality to be honoured with India’s highest civilian award has begun and only time can declare the winner.
The award in question was constituted in 1954, awarded on the occasion of the Republic Day, in a bid to acknowledge outstanding national service under the categories of art, science, and literary achievements. The literal translation of the award would be ‘the jewel of India ‘. However, this is not really the reason why it has been awarded to some of the recipients. It has been used more as an instrument of appeasing groups or persons in whom, the government conferring the honour, has been interested in. The fact has been clearly reinstated in the general decline in the profile of the recipients. Some of the awardees like C.V Raman, B.C.Roy, Vishveshwarai and APJ Abdul Kalam had brought laurels to the country because of their great work. Some like Mother Teresa and Vinobha Bhave had succeeded in even reaching millions. Art, too, has received great appreciation by awarding artists like Lata Mangeshkar and Satyajit Ray. On the contrary, the act of honouring leaders such as VV.Giri, M.G.Ramachandran and Gulzarari Lal Nanda have been severely criticised. The criteria of selection and the question of its constitutional basis have invited trouble in the form of litigations. Such developments have rendered the political history of this award extremely controversial.
Considering examples of dispute regarding the ’posthumous’ nature of the award being conferred on freedom fighter Subash Chandra Bose, becoming an election issue, extreme caution is exercised while choosing the candidate. Otherwise, for a country like India, one which is brimming with great talent, it should not be very difficult to find a deserving candidate. This year, too, several names are doing the rounds. Names such as businessmen Ratan Tata and N.R. Narayan Murthy. Politicians in this fray include former prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, strongly supported by L.K. Advani. Kanshi Ram is being backed by Mayawati. Besides this, the LJP has put forward the names of social reformer of the 19th centaury, Jyotiba Phule, along with the names of Dalit leader Jagjivan Ram, and singer Mohammad Rafi. The most recent claim comes from RJD, who lobby for former chief minister of Bihar, Karpuri Thakur. In a country where cricket is worshipped, the chance of pitching in some personality from there could not be missed for sure. Thus, it is not unnatural that the master blaster’s name completes the list of contenders. The confusion persists as to who is the most eligible candidate. To steer clear of trouble, the government could always suggest the name of someone who is apolitical and has made a substantial amount of contribution to society at large. This can happen only when a strong parliament bench works on this issue and does not yield to the pressures of the conflicting parties at the political scene of the country.
As the Republic Day approaches, speculations are mounting. A surprise awaits us or perhaps a shock. Let us simply hope that the most deserving take home this national honour.
Rohini Ram Mohan