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Badge of honour

By proposing AB Vajpayee’s name for the prestigious Bharat Ratna award, LK Advani has tried to politicise the annual national honours, writes Pankaj Vohra.

columns Updated: Apr 02, 2008 18:58 IST
Pankaj Vohra

By proposing AB Vajpayee’s name for the prestigious Bharat Ratna award, LK Advani has tried to politicise the annual national honours, which are announced on the eve of the Republic Day. As if on cue, a section of the CPI(M) has also demanded a similar recognition its grand old patriarch, Jyoti Basu.

While it is for the government and the awards panel to debate the merits and demerits of awarding the Bharat Ratna to the two senior politicians, Advani could have avoided a controversy at this stage. In fact, by demanding this award for Vajpayee, he has ensured that the former Prime Minister is dragged into a political debate. This would benefit Advani since his relationship with Vajpayee has never been smooth. This move is also aimed at helping Advani successfully woo the Brahmins to his side and embarrass the Manmohan Singh government.

If the government awards the Bharat Ratna to Vajpayee, which many feel he deserves, the credit will go to Advani. However, it will make the Left and other secular parties unhappy. If the government declines, Advani will have the option to say that a senior parliamentarian like Vajpayee was ignored because of petty political reasons.

The Congress and its UPA allies are trying to handle this issue diplomatically. But someone should have said clearly that no matter whether Vajpayee gets the Bharat Ratna or not, Advani has surely qualified for the Nishan-e-Pakistan, that country’s highest honour, by praising Mohammad Ali Jinnah and that too at his mausoleum. The RSS, which cleared Advani’s name for being the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, will second such a proposal. We can safely assume this because the sangh parivar has endorsed Advani though he has not changed his stance on Jinnah. It will be a coincidence and a moment to cherish for the parivar if its ‘Vikas Purush’ gets the Bharat Ratna and its ‘Loh Purush’, the Nishan-e-Pakistan. After all, according to the Sangh’s ideology, we are one people and one nation. And, the end is, of course, ‘Akhand Bharat’. Some of the aides who helped in Advani’s image makeover — from a staunch Hindutva supporter to a moderate leader — can also be given some other award for trying to bring together the people of India and Pakistan.

If one keeps the sarcasm out, Advani, by proposing Vajpayee’s name for the Bharat Ratna, has tried to strengthen the suspicion that many had: Padma awards and the Bharat Ratna are given out of political considerations. The Bharat Ratna is devalued when it is awarded to undeserving candidates. Each year, the long list of Padma awardees has names who are known more for their political connections than their contribution in their respective fields.

When Vajpayee was the PM, a certain gentleman’s name was added to the list of Republic day awardees in a separate gazette notification a day later. By recommending Vajpayee’s name, Advani wants to be seen openly lobbying for him.

There are many who may argue that if a certain Congress politician from a southern state could get it, why not Vajpayee? It is true that Vajpayee is the only parliamentarian of the Nehruvian era who is still around. It is also true that he was the only PM from outside the Congress fold. It is also true that under his leadership, the BJP could not go beyond 182 seats in 1998 and 1999 and he led the NDA to defeat in the 2004 polls.

However, some questions could be raised about his past if the awards committee examines his case. While the charges levelled against him and fellow Sangh colleague Nanaji Deshmukh by Balraj Madhok, the co-founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, may be overlooked because of lack of evidence, his performance as the PM can come under scrutiny. The Kargil intrusions, the Kandahar episode, the failed Agra summit and the attack on Parliament (with Advani as the Home Minister), all happened while he was the PM.

Vajpayee is often hailed as the only top leader who has represented the maximum number of constituencies in Lok Sabha, including Balrampur, New Delhi, Vidisha, Gandhinagar and Lucknow.

His supporters say that he could pull this off because of his wide acceptability. But critics feel that since Vajpayee never nursed his constituencies, he had to constantly look for new pastures. And, being the top leader, the RSS would then ensure his re-election from another place. But the most critical point which would be examined is that Vajpayee also represents an ideology that many feel is in variance with our constitution and secular polity. Honouring him with such an award would mean giving credence to an ideology that has been branded as fascist and communal, though Vajpayee himself has never been a stickler, given his fondness for good things in life.

Many may want to know what were Advani’s true intentions in recommending Vajpayee’s name. Like all politicians, Advani does not do anything without a gameplan. Vajpayee has earned a lot of respect and is regarded as an elderly statesman. He would be happy if his name does not get dragged into a needless controversy. In any case, he does not need a Bharat Ratna to secure a place in history. But Advani certainly needs him to further his own agenda. Between us.