Of Bharat Ratna and other fiascos

When people ask “Why shouldn’t Sachin be given the Bharat Ratna?”, I feel sad. The fundamental question should be “is Bharat Ratna what it purports to be?”.
The Bharat Ratna was constituted in 1954 to recognize “public service of the highest order”. This included arts, science and literature, but the original intention was never to include sports-persons . A “Tendulkar-specific” amendment was introduced in 2011 to encompass all endeavours including sports. Was this necessary? Perhaps not. For sports, we already have the Arjuna award and then we added the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award; besides we have whole hierarchy of civilian awards from Padmasri to Padma Vibhushan. Tendulkar, incidentally has got all these awards up to and including Padma Vibhushan ! Now that they included sports, some officials in the sports ministry proposed that Dhyan Chand be given the Bharat Ratna posthumously (more on the “posthumous” bit later). This did not find favour, so the sports minister proposed giving Bharat Ratna simultaneously to Tendulkar and Dhyan Chand. The PM vetoed this saying Tendulkar was the “more popular” of the two.


Courtesy: The Hindu

Incidentally, there is no jury for this award. The PM just sends a name and the President concurs. There is no due diligence, just the ability to sign the dotted line. A word about Dhyan Chand, for those who may have forgotten. He was a humble soldier who architected India’s gold medal in 3 successive Olympics . This was at time when India was a slave nation with no role models in international sport. Chand had no rich patrons — in fact he was often posted in frontier areas with little leave for attending tournaments. When India won the first Gold in Amsterdam Olympics , many of the best Indian players fell sick in the foreign land, and Dhyan Chand played a superb game despite fever and won the match against the hosts. Talk about overcoming odds— would you vote for Dhyan Chand or Tendulkar? Our PM was talking about “popularity”. Whose popularity did he have in mind, his own or Sachin’s?
On this “posthumous” bit —The original rules did not anticipate posthumous proposals. In 1966 the statute was amended to add this extra confusion. In 1990 Ambedkar was awarded posthumously, keeping in mind Dalit votes; and then Sardar Patel was awarded in 1991 so as not to lose the traditional Hindu votes! When “posthumously” was used so expediently , why was the “popularity” filter invoked on Dhyan Chand ? The obvious reason : politics over governance.
Of course, this is true of most awards by the government. For example, even though Dravid has been named one of the 3 top Wisden cricketers of all time , he was not given either Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award or Padma Vibhushan. Tendulkar (and Viswanathan Anand) have both. Dravid has no godfathers, perhaps?
Now let us look at some Bharat Ratna recipients: Rajiv Gandhi, MGR , Morarji Desai. Please let me know as soon as you discover “public service of the highest order” in them. When FIAT “gifted” a Ferrari to Sachin (he was its paid Brand Ambassador) he and his cohorts loudly appealed against legitimate import duties levied by the Customs Dept. It was not as if he could not afford the same, nor was there a mis-delivery of justice. This does not look like “public service of the highest order”, does it? Next: Acharya Vinobha Bhave, a good man no doubt, but his Bhoodaan and other exercises were glorious failures caused by his complete abstraction from the ground reality. No public service of highest order was established.
Something in the Padma and Bharat awards smack of dynastic sycophancy. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi received the Bharat Ratna; Vijaylakshmi Pandit, Nehru’s sister, got the Padma Vibhushan . The worst dynastic example is Rajiv Gandhi, whose inept handling of the Srilanka crisis led to the deaths of thousands of  Indian soldiers and increasingly hostile neighbours in all our borders —He did this despite having access to good advice— not “public service of the highest order”.
Bottom-line: The Bharat Ratna is not as pristine as it is made out to be. There is not enough fairness and logic in the selection. Sachin is a great cricketer and a good family man, but this is not the award for him. That much worse people have got the award before him, is no reason to recommend him. An inappropriate selection has been made. Is it because an inept PM has fallen to populist tantrums, or is an advertising mafia behind Sachin’s selection?


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