By Vijay Darda | 01-02-2016
Right at the outset, let me make a statement. I am not among those who believe that the Padma awards or for that matter all the honours should be abolished. On the contrary, I have a firm belief in the inspiring value of these honours and strongly believe that these do go a long way in pushing people to do well in life. Not that anyone works to get an award, but when the recognition comes it is certainly a matter of great satisfaction.
In public life I am fully aware that all kinds of politics is at play in these awards. For that matter the highest and most coveted award the Nobel is not free from politics, and we all know that Mahatma Gandhi the greatest symbol of non-violence in the 20th century was denied the Nobel Peace prize though he was nominated on more than one occasion, and even posthumously. No one from the Nobel committee has ever commented on it officially, but there is enough material in the public domain to know that for the first 60 years no non-European or non-American had been awarded the prize, and for the committee it was too much to recognise the man who was challenging the colonial power Great Britain. In fact while commenting on Gandhi’s nomination, an analyst wrote. ”He is a freedom fighter, a dictator and an idealist and a nationalist. He is frequently a Christ but then suddenly an ordinary politician.”
But the same Nobel committee played politics of a different kind when some years ago it chose a Pakistani Muslim girl Malala and a Hindu Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi for a joint peace prize to send a political message on children’s rights. So, we can say that there is some good politics and some equally bad politics in the awards business.
From my experience in public life, I am aware that political preferences and prejudices of the government of the day do play a part in the national Padma awards. As they say in colloquial language, we can live with some salt in food, but with the food becoming totally salty the situation becomes unpalatable. Just see the contrast that is represented by these two different tweets from veteran actor Anupam Kher about the awards.
1) “AWARDS in our country have become a mockery of our system. There is NO authenticity left in any one of them. B it films, National or now PADMA”
— Anupam Kher (@AnupamPkher) January 26, 2010.
2) “Happy, Humbled & Honoured to share that i have been awarded The PADMA BHUSHAN by the Govt. of India. Greatest news of my life:) #JaiHind”
— Anupam Kher (@AnupamPkher) January 25, 2016.
Separated by six years these tweets tell us the sad story about Padma awards.
The major difference being that the UPA regime in 2010 has been replaced by a BJP-led NDA regime in 2016 and Khersaab, otherwise an accomplished actor has become the non-official voice of the BJP on controversies like award wapsi. In such a backdrop, the questions raised by another talented Bollywood personality Kadar Khan about the reasons for the recognition to Khersaab become all the more poignant. The awards lose their grace and shine when such questions are asked, and the usual political practice of shrugging away such criticism or dismissing it as politically motivated only adds to further erosion of credibility and public cynicism.
But the problem is not restricted to Bollywood personalities. It is much more endemic and my friend Nitin Gadkari had recently highlighted the situation in his own candid way when he referred to successful actor from the yesteryears Asha Parekh climbing several floors of his building just to seek a recommendation for a Padma award. This impression that you have to be in the good books of the ruling party to get any recognition is the worst possible thing that can happen to the credibility of any award. The award then loses its stature as a symbol of recognition for your talent and achievements and instead becomes a symbol of government patronage. Now no respectable person would like to be treated as sarkari-writer, doctor or actor. This explains why Kadar Khan is not sorry about missing out on the Padma awards. Mind you there is a genuine difference between being patriotic and being sarkari.
At the root of the problem is the age old practice of using these awards and other forms of recognition for political purposes. No political dispensation is free from this virus. For the BJP, the unstated goal is also to send a message that the Congress during its years in power has conferred these honours in a manner that was perverse and prejudiced. But then it cannot achieve a course correction by following the same practices.
The awards have to be seen as simply a recognition for the achievements in a particular field and not as a political dole. Or else these end up honouring a person who has never been to a farm field as an agriculturist, or those who charge extortionist rates of interest from tribals as social workers. It also beats one’s understanding as to how those who make their name as column writers in publications can be honoured in the category of literature and education?
The practice of seeking recommendations from state governments and also having some kind of state wise representation in the annual honours list is also a touch incongruous. Ultimately, these are national honours, and whereas the people getting it would be coming from some state and that would be fine. But a representative flavour is rather odd.
The same thing holds about posthumous awards. If the honour is to have an inspirational value it has to come within the life time, and not after more than 150 years like in the case of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the 19th century founder of Arya Samaj. But it is in such choices that the biases and the prejudices of the government of the day become clear.
The beauty of governance lies in exercising your choices without being too explicit about your prejudices. Only then can any regime redeem the Padma awards. A lot of damage has been already done, there is no time to lose. The course correction must begin soonest.
Before I conclude…
The smart city choices from Maharashtra – Pune and Solapur – should set others thinking and the ones that have missed out this time the four in the Mumbai region, as well as Nagpur, Aurangabad must make up in the next round of selection. The stakes in each of these cities are pretty huge and given that the future course of development would be driven through urban areas. There is no way in which these large concentrations of urban populace be deprived of the central resources for growth. More so, when the same political dispensation is ruling the state and the centre.