On January 26th many newspapers flashed as the main headline the conferring of Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award, on three persons: late Nanaji Deshmukh, a Bharatiya Jana Sangh leader, Bhupen Hazarika, singer and Pranab Mukherjee, former president. Nanaji Deshmukh and Bhupen Hazarika were conferred the award posthumously.
“Pranab da is an outstanding statesman of our times. He has served the nation selflessly and tirelessly for decades, leaving a strong imprint on the nation's growth trajectory. His wisdom and intellect have few parallels. Delighted that he has been conferred the Bharat Ratna," the PM wrote on Twitter. “ The Congress Party takes great pride in the fact that the immense contribution to public service & nation building of one of our own has been recognized & honoured,” tweeted Rahul Gandhi, the President of the Congress Party.
The Hindi daily, Dainik Bhaskar, gave a special headline, pregnant with a lot of meaning: Sangam Sharanam Bharat Ratnam. Many Indians have been wondering why Pranab Mukherjee was selected for the top civilian honour. What has been his special contribution to the nation that deserves the Bharat Ratna? Pranab da was in the government in various capacities for many years. He was a shrewd politician who was often called the crisis manager of the Congress party. He was also seen as a politician with integrity. Beyond this what has been his contribution to the people of India?
Some political parties have reacted negatively to the selection of Pranab Mukherjee for the highest civilian award. Senior AAP leader, Sanjay Singh, said that the government has made a mockery of the Bharat Ratna. Janata Dal (Secular) leader Danish Ali suspected politics behind the former President Pranab Mukherjee being given the award. He said that former Chief Minister of Odisha, Biju Patnaik, late social reformer Kanshi Ram who worked for the upliftment of Bahujans and Dr. Shivakumara Swamy, Lingayat seer deserve the award more than Mukherjee and Deshmukh. “He has been awarded just because he went to RSS headquarters”.
The implication of the headline of Dainik Bhaskar is that it is a favour done to Shri. Mukherjee because he is in the good books of Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS). The visit of Pranab Mukherjee to the RSS headquarters to participate in an event on June 7, 2018 had created controversy, as many Congress men had objected to it. Mukherjee’s visit was used by RSS for its image building and for enhancing its public acceptance. The award is seen by some as a reward for the great help rendered by Mukherjee to RSS.
Mukherjee was a congress man till he donned the mantle of the president of India in 2012. Although he had the mettle to become the Prime Minister, he was not given the chance by the Nehru-Gandhi family. This has been the perception created by the media as well as the Sangh Parivar. They argue that Pranab da should have been made the PM instead of Manmohan Singh in 2009; because Manmohan Singh was more pliable, he was preferred over Mukherjee by Sonia Gandhi. It appears that PM Modi and his party want to show to the public that the Sangh Parivar is compensating for what the Congress had denied to Pranab da. As the Sangh Parivar hijacked Saradar Vallabhbhai Patel and Bhimrao Ambedkar and included them in the Sangh icons, Pranab da also may get a place among the icons of the Sangh.
Another rumour doing the round in the political circle is that Pranab da was given the highest civilian award of the nation in order to appease the Bengali pride and garner the votes of the Bengalis for the BJP in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election. BJP has already captured the opposition space in West Bengal, pushing the Marxist party to the third place. The BJP is leaving no stone unturned to increase its seat share from West Bengal. Conferring Bharat Ratna on Pranab Mukherjee, a Bengali, could be one of the political tools used by the BJP. The BJP is almost sure that it will not able to win the same number of seats it had won in the 2014 election from the Hindi heartland. Hence the seats that will be lost in the north and central India have to come from the east and the north east.
If Pranab Mukherjee had gently declined to accept the award on the excuse that there are many deserving candidates in the country than him, his credibility would have increased by leaps and bounds. As an intelligent person he could have sensed the political motive behind conferring award just a few months before the general election. Sony Mehta, Naveen Patnaik’s sister, turned down the Padma Shri award, giving a valid and convincing reason. In a statement from New York she said: "I am deeply honoured that the Government of India should think me worthy of a Padma Shri, but with great regret I feel I must decline as there is a general election looming and the timing of the award might be misconstrued, causing embarrassment both to the Government and myself, which I would much regret."
There are a good number of prominent Indians who deserve Bharat Ratna more than Pranab Mukherjee. Two of them are E Sreedharan, who is known all over the world as the Metro Man and Dr. Varghese Kurian, the Milk Man of India. Their contributions to the people of India have been immense and game changers in the development of India. It is mentioned in the biography of E Sreedharan (Karma Yogi by M K Ashokan) that all the projects implemented by him were completed before time, including the Konkan Railway. The plan for Konkan Railway had been given up by the British rulers because they found it not feasible and viable. Throughout his professional life there was no accusation of corruption on E Sreedharan, although he had implemented billons of rupees worth of projects.
On the 97th birthday of Dr. Kurian the Amul published the following advertisement in prominent newspapers in India. “Where others saw milk, one man saw a revolution. One man transformed a milk deficit country into the largest milk producer in the world. One man transformed lives of women farmers, empowering them with financial independence. One man transformed a pouch of milk into a symbol of indigenous courage and commitment”.
The unique and creative contribution of Dr. Varghese Kurian are producing milk powder from buffalo milk; establishment of institutions like GCMMF (Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd), NDDB (National Dairy Development Board) and IRMA (Institute of Rural Management); motivating European countries to donate milk powder to kick-off ‘Operation Flood’ through which milk production was extended to 72,000 villages in India; and motivating lakhs of farmers to contribute Rs. 2/- each towards the financing of the movie, 'Manthan,' by Shyam Benegal. Dr. Varghese Kurian is responsible for making India self-sufficient in milk production and the biggest producer of milk in the world.
The contributions of Pranab Mukherjee are not at all comparable to the magnificent contributions of these two visionary leaders with integrity, determination and passion for nation building. They did not raise slogans of nationalism; they have given their maximum to build the lives of the people of India. Bharat Ratna should go to the nation builders who build the lives of the people of India with creativity, hard work, courage, determination and integrity.
Using the civilian awards as favouritism and in view of political advantage is not something new. Conferring Bharat Ratna on Sachin Tendulkar by the Congress government was questioned by many Indians. It is a well-known fact that many individuals try to get these awards by influencing politicians. As a result sometimes the awards are not given to the most deserving individuals.
Recognizing the unique contributions made by the individual citizens to the wellbeing of the people of India and its development is, indeed, an inspiration to others. We need world renowned scientists, committed social workers, artists, authors etc. The awards are to be used in such a way that more and more individuals are motivated to make their maximum contribution to the nation and humanity. The selection process is to be made more transparent and objective. Instead of the government alone making the decision a selection committee, consisting of the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India may be set up to decide on the candidates for Bharat Ratna. There may be another committee, consisting of the representatives of the government and the main opposition for the selection of the candidates for lower level civilian awards. Each state can propose names for the civilian awards with their credentials and the committee can make the final selection.
Controversy over the civilian awards is not good either for the persons who receive the award or for the government which gives the award. Hence a transparent and reliable mechanism is to be put in place for selecting the awardees.
(firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 04th February 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 06)