The award of Bharat Ratna raises serious questions of propriety
Rajindar Sachar

AN acrimonious public debate is going on over the names which the Centre may choose for the award of Bharat Ratna. The conferment of civilian awards has no sanction in the Constitution. It was introduced by an executive order in 1954 by the Central Government. The government concept behind it, according to “India 2013” (page 1154), is: “The highest civilian award. It is given for exceptional service towards advancement of Art, Literature and Science and in recognition of public service of the highest order. Since its inception in 1954, 41 persons have been decorated with Bharat Ratna so far.” There are also three categories of Padma awards — Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri.


Such awards had their critics right from the beginning. That is why many individuals, including Gandhians, eminent journalists, historians and human rights activists, have politely declined to accept the awards as recently as 2007. That is why the assumptions and actuality in giving these awards needs to be debated in a brutally open manner. Bharat Ratna was given to the first Governor General of India C. Raja Gopalachari (1954), S. Radhakrishnan, Pt. Nehru (1955), and Pt. G.B. Pant (1957). It is unfortunate that Pt. Nehru, who was the tallest leader, set a bad precedent as he had to be persuaded to accept Bharat Ratna. He was the Prime Minister. He did not require the award to enhance his stature. In fact, there is credible information that Maulana Azad declined to accept it in 1955 and advised Nehru to do so accordingly. But once Nehru accepted it, politicisation and partisanship of the award became inevitable. So we have a curious example of Maulana Azad (though he was against this institution) being given the award posthumously in 1992; Sardar patel in 1991, while Pt. G.B. Pant had already been given in 1957. Is that not perverting seniority and history? The only way out is to abolish the institution of awards.


But then I suppose politicians suffer from vanity and enjoy giving awards in all spheres; curiously even in sports, when in reality they may not even know what is off-break bowling in cricket or offside in hockey. That is why hockey in which we had wizards like Dhyan Chand, the winner of Olympics who has not been given Bharat Ratna, because the present-day small politicians find more money in IPL Cricket. It is the money angle that determines the supremacy of a game. Is that not the reason why kabaddi, our home-grown game so popular in the North, especially Punjab, has been sidelined? It was rather scoffed at by the Anglicised Indians when Dr. Lohia, the socialist leader, wanted it to be treated as a national game. Now of course it is one of most upcoming events (all because of T.V. IPL presentation and the consequent money making in the bargain).

The award of Bharat Ratna raises serious question of propriety, and exposes the conceit and impudence of small-time politicians to arrogate to themselves the right to recognise the contribution of our national heroes of the past. I firmly believe that any attempt by the pygmies of our generation to pick our heroes and freedom fighters of pre-1947 like Netaji Subas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh is shamefully presumptuous. Who do these small politicians think they are — puny individuals strutting in false feathers by purporting to confer the honour on our heroes, when we should instead be bowing our heads to their sacrifices in the fight for freedom. Let their life be an inspiration to all of us.

Let me share with you the courage and bravery of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. In 1930 after they had been sentenced to death, efforts were made by some well-wishers to persuade him to sign the application to be sent to the government for the commutation of his sentence to life imprisonment. My father was also in Central Jail, Lahore, where he had been detained as a Satyagrahi. In the evening prisoners were allowed to come out of the cell for some time to walk and exercise in the lawn outside. My father and Bhagat Singh used to have a walk at the same place. After his death sentence, my father told Bhagat Singh: “Many people are requesting you to sign the petition. Don’t you think that if your life is spared, the movement would get a big push?” On this the young man of 23 years said unflinchingly: “No, Sachar Sahab, I feel my sacrifice will bring higher results”. Such was the courage of the young man. We all know the wave of revolutionary ferment which swept the country after his execution. Of course, I was a young kid, but I still remember the electrifying current in the country. And lest anyone should forget — the Congress which was till that time content with asking for Dominion Status, was forced into demanding complete Independence as was insisted by Bhagat Singh when it held its annual conference on the banks of the Ravi at Lahore on January 26, 1930 (Bhagat Singh’s was hanged on March 23, 1930).


One of the suggestions given by an eminent columnist is to give Bharat Ratna to Field Marshall Manekshaw. If awards are to be continued, it is an apt name. But then the journalist in his enthusiasm has made the unfortunate comment that Manekshaw’s contribution was greater and more memorable than that of awardee Aruna Asaf Ali……”. I feel that in his enthusiasm the journalist friend has hit his own toe. Probably, he was too young in 1942, when the Quit India movement called by Gandhiji was at its peak. All the Congressmen even at the village level were put in jail. The Quit India movement was led by Socialist leaders, including Jaya Prakash Narayan, Dr. Lohia and Aruna Asaf Ali. In 1942 Aruna Asaf Ali was the face of the underground movement. She bravely travelled throughout the country and inspired youth. Any attempt to underestimate her contribution is unforgivable. But then modern newspapers have a different priority. None of the main newspapers even carried a small report about the importance of 9th August, the Quit India movement day.


In this background the only respectable and dignified course left is to abolish the awards — in a democracy the affection and recognition by the masses is the best tribute to stalwarts in various fields of life.

Source- The Tribune