Bharat Ratna for Vajpayee, Malaviya: Govt needs to stop politicising the reward

If the purpose of the award is to bestow everlasting greatness on the recipient or etch his memory and achievements on the nation’s mind for ever, the Bharat Ratna has failed miserably.

Sandipan Sharma December 25, 2014 08:50:05 IST
Bharat Ratna for Vajpayee, Malaviya: Govt needs to stop politicising the reward

The government should consider renaming the Bharat Ratna. The award should henceforth be called the BJP Ratna or the Congress Ratna in deference to the political compulsions of the party that recommends it.

Ever since Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira pulled off the farce of nominating themselves as India’s gems, the award has been routinely misused to either honour people who serve the interests of the ruling dispensation or to deny it to deserving political rivals.

Bharat Ratna for Vajpayee Malaviya Govt needs to stop politicising the reward

Representational image.

As a result of the politicisation of the award, the Bharat Ratna has been reduced to a political largesse doled out by the party in power, sometimes in a manner that is demeaning even to the recipient. It would be much better to rename the award officially so that it becomes a reflection of the biases and compulsions of the party in power instead of making it look like a grateful nation’s token of obsequious acceptance of the recipient’s greatness.

Let us play a little history game here. If asked to name the Nav Ratnas from Akbar’s darbar nearly 500 years ago, most of us would be able to name a few of them; some may even list out all the nine. Now, how many of us remember the names of the eight Bharat Ratnas from Nehru’s first decade in power?

This is not to argue that the likes of CV Raman, C Rajgopalachari and S Radhakrishnan were lesser mortals than Tansen, Todarmal or Birbal. The point is the award has been distributed to so many undeserving people because of political considerations that most of us do not attach any value to the recipients and forget them as soon as the ink on their plaque dries.

If the purpose of the award is to recognise stellar contributions by the recipient and etch his/her memory and achievements on the nation’s mind forever, the Bharat Ratna has failed miserably.

Consider the list of some of our Ratnas: Nehru, Govind Ballabh Pant, Rajendra Prasada, Zakir Hussain, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, K Kamraj, MG Ramachandran, Rajiv Gandhi, BR Ambedkar, Morarji Desai and now Atal Behari Vajpayee and Madan Mohan Malaviya.

Any bright student of Indian politics would immediately be able to name the Prime Minister and the ruling party of the country by simply finding out who was awarded that particular year. Morarji Desai, the first non-Congress Prime Minister of India, was honoured in 1991. Guess who was the PM then?

Incidentally, Morarji Bhai had scrapped the entire system of civilian honours in India in 1977 and had asked the previous recipients not to use the title in the future. He was convinced that the previous government had degraded the honour and it should be scrapped. But in 1980 Indira Gandhi reintroduced the Bharat Ratna, making a mockery of the system by recommending herself. Since then the award has been used like the other coveted perk of political loyalty: the governor’s job.

If MG Ramachandran and K Kamaraj are Bharat Ratnas, Atal Behari Vajpayee should have got it thrice by now solely on the basis of his stature as a national leader compared to many other regional politicians. The award would have carried even greater legitimacy and prestige if Vajpayee had got it under the UPA government. After all, wasn’t he magnanimous enough to call Indira Gandhi an avatar of Durga?

But the other choice — that of Madan Mohan Malaviya — rips open a Pandora’s Box of possibilities and not just because Modi represents Varanasi and Mahamanya was linked also to the Hindu Mahasabha. The real problem is when you start pulling out people from history books for the award, where do you begin and where do you stop?

Tomorrow somebody might stand up and demand that Emperor Ashok be recognised as Bharat Ratna. Others may seek it for Akbar and the Rajasthanis, who have so far been denied the honour of a Ratna of their own, may want it for Rana Pratap.

Where will the farce end? Obviously, when it is deprived the honour of being Bharat’s choice.

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