Monday, January 9, 2012

Let us not degrade country's highest civilian honour Bharat Ratna

by T R Ramaswami of ET Bureau

The awards on R-Day and I-Day are another legacy inherited from the British Raj. It is said that a Briton feels naked without post nominal letters and the target is to have as many alphabets, if not more, after his name as in the name. The same 'awardiarrhoea' disease has gripped us. No wonder criteria for awards are being diluted, the latest being the Bharat Ratna.

First proposal. In the US, the highest civilian award is called the Freedom Medal, but the highest gallantry award, the Congressional Medal of Honour, ranks higher. Place the Param Vir Chakra above the Bharat Ratna. Hence, those who get the Bharat Ratna cannot claim to have received the country's highest award. Thereafter, it does not matter who gets it because the Param Vir Chakras will remain the real heroes as they deserve to be. After all, 41 people, some questionable, have received the Bharat Ratna while only 21 have got the Param Vir Chakra. Only seven lived to see themselves being awarded. Another rule like the Nobel Prize - no posthumous Bharat Ratnas. That should end all political wrangles.

Till the 1970s, all was well. In the mid-1970s, the then-PM gave it to a Southern politician just before elections in that state. A dozen years later, her copycat son did the same by giving it to another neta of the same state. However, the intended objective of winning the elections deservedly failed both times. Then, with a change in the political scenario came the era of honouring not only those who were dead, but some who died long before the award was even instituted.

What did they achieve after their deaths? Why were they not honoured immediately when the awards were instituted? Did someone not want their names to become as prominent as the paterfamilias of the ruling parivar, who was one of the first to get it? Perhaps we can even now find a reason for giving it to Bhishma, Arjuna, Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka, Samudragupta, Akbar, Shivaji, Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Vivekananda, etc.

We make a huge hue and cry that the Nobel Peace Prize was not given to Mahatma Gandhi. So, why not a consolation Bharat Ratna? Recollect that we gave it to Mother Teresa only after she got the Nobel Prize. Even Bahadur Shah Zafar, the first Indian leader who really fought for Independence in 1857, probably deserves one.

If at all the Bharat Ratna is to be given, the only persons who perhaps currently deserve it are Dr Verghese Kurien, the late Field Marshal Maneckshaw, Narasimha Rao and A B Vajpayee. And if sportspersons are to be considered, Viswanathan Anand ranks head and shoulders above Tendulkar. Also, Presidents and Prime Ministers and other netas/netis should be given awards only 10 years after they remit office, if we remember them that is. That should incentivise political retirement. How about a transparent publicly-disclosed achievement award matrix? This is easily possible in sports with each sport having a graded hierarchy of achievements.

The ideal solution is to have Shri, Bhushan, Vibhushan and Ratna awards separately for different categories. For example, we could have Khel Shri, Khel Bhushan, Khel Vibhushan and Khel Ratna for sportspersons. Similarly, Vigyan Shri, etc, for sciences, Kala Shri, etc, for the arts and so on. Each such award will rank one level below the similarly-named Padma/Bharat Ratna awards. For someone to get the Bharat Ratna, he/she should have achieved something really outstanding in their field of activity of truly international impact. A game that only 10 countries representing barely 21% (5%, if India is removed) of the world population play hardly qualifies. Being No. 20 in football is more difficult than being No. 1 in cricket.

I would like to nominate an Association of Persons (AoP) that really deserves the Bharat Ratna. These persons were largely born on or after August 15, 1947. From the time they could walk, life, starting with school admission, graduation and employment, was a saga of numerous queues and bribes. On getting employment, the queue for a ration card, gas connection, telephone connection, voter's identity card, passport and UID had to be endured, which they did thanks to the earlier experience and strength gained from drinking adulterated milk and eating adulterated dal and chawal.

On retirement they had to fight for pension, provident fund and gratuity, and on death, the bribes continued with their children bribing the crematorium for more wood and later the municipal authorities for the death certificate. This AoP is none other than the common person (to be politically correct). And I nominate - I am sure you would all also agree - Mr R K Laxman to receive this award. No one has portrayed our daily travails better than he has done in just 10 sq cm. After this, the award should be retired forever.

There is one more necessity - should not the Bharat Ratna be awarded by someone who has already been so honoured? Should not the highest office in the land be occupied by a true Ratna? Or is the quality of the awardees keeping pace with the quality of the awarder?

Want the Bharat Ratna? Take my advice. Start singing classical music or playing some classical musical instrument (something really obscure) and continue for life. The chances are very great that you may get one, when you are over 70. Half the awardees in the last decade are musicians, indicating that they are the safest category without stirring a political hornet's nest.

Sent by B Bates

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