Bharat Ratna, which in the English language means the Jewel or Gem of India, is India’s highest civilian award, awarded to the person rendering highest degree of national service. This service includes artistic, literary, and scientific achievements, as well as recognition of public service of the highest order. Unlike knights, holders of the Bharat Ratna carry no special title or any other honorifics, but they do have a place in the Indian order of precedence. The award was established by the first President of India, Rajendra Prasad, on January 2, 1954. Originally, the specifications for the award called for a circular gold medal, carrying the state emblem and motto, among other things. It is uncertain if a design in accordance with the original specifications was ever made. The actual award is designed in the shape of a peepal leaf and carries the Hindi-written words “Bharat Ratna” on the front. The reverse side of the medal carries the state emblem and motto. The award is attached to a two-inch long ribbon, and was designed to be worn around the recipient’s neck.
This tradition of awarding the Bharat Ratna to a deserving nominee is carried out ceremoniously every year on the 26th of January. It’s implausible that the country’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, has ever been subjected to this kind of political jockeying since it was first instituted in 1954. While the Central Government is yet to decide on the recipient of the award for this year, more political parties have joined the fray. The names of four political veterans are doing the rounds – former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, veteran communist leader Jyoti Basu, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and the late Kanshi Ram of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Clearly, the politicization and backroom maneuvering that had become a common feature for awards such as the Padma Shri has slowly crept up the awards ladder and is now casting a shadow over the highest civilian award. The nominations to the highest award begin with a political figure and ends with another.
Senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) L.K. Advani had set the ball rolling demanding that Vajpayee be given the award. General Secretary of the Congress Veerappa Moily claimed that the honour should be conferred on the grand old man of the CPI(M), Jyoti Basu. In the midst of the Left-Right war, Karunanidhi’s candidature was also making the rounds. His party the DMK, which is an ally of the Congress-led UPA government, renewed its demand. And finally huffing and puffing enters the race, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati putting forward the name of the late Kanshi Ram and drawing the Prime Minister’s attention to his contribution in creating an awakening among Dalits and other marginalized sections of society. Seems like the award is being demanded rather than bestowed upon!
Sociologist Imtiaz Ahmad, a retired professor of the JNU, says that the “Bharat Ratna was conceived as a rare honour and it continued to be so in the early years when objectivity was followed to recognise a person’s extraordinary contribution to the country. Now the whole problem is that the government does not have any file to track the evolution of a personality who deserves the award. Instead, a file is prepared by a bureaucrat under political intervention. The whole thing has become messy given the pulls and pressures”. It is for this reason that since 2001, the awards committee has been unable to suggest a person worthy of the award. Hence, no name has been announced for the Bharat Ratna since Lata Mangeshkar and Ustad Bismillah Khan in 2001.
It only seems to be true, that there are no Indians who have covered themselves with enough glory; making them an automatic shoo-in for the Bharat Ratna or rather the dimensions have narrowed to the everyday politics of the country. The country is abundant of talent, desires to serve the people and achievements but all this enrolled in one figure? A politician undoubtedly!