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Bharat Ratna: it’s all about correct timing

columns Updated: Nov 25, 2013 00:47 IST
Sachin Tendulkar

Though seemingly disparate, one cannot help discerning subterranean similarities between Sachin Tendulkar’s Bharat Ratna and 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s hanging.

In both it was the timing that emerged paramount. Afzal Guru was hanged in an abrupt manner as the UPA government was in a tight squeeze (it still is) because of the third successive victory of patriotic Narendra Modi in Gujarat and the people in authority needed to show they were doing something on terror. The hanging was preceded by another execution and hence they could go as part of the same package.

As for the Bharat Ratna, the timing aspect was a more compact affair. For media buyers Brand Tendulkar needs to be kept alive even though Player Tendulkar will be missing on the playing field. And what better occasion to award this good cricketer than on the day he is retiring from the game!

And in both there was a shroud of secrecy and then a sudden explosion. Here one cannot help suspecting that the authorities were powerfully influenced by the analogy of the sort of nervous (or otherwise) excitement that bomb blasts in a big city can drive in. Just a clever interpolation — bring in the excitement, excise the fear — and the job is done. Money won, and so did the media, which inevitably has a stake in such matters.

Ill-timed awards have caused resentment in the past. Normally the Bharat Ratna for Subhas Chandra Bose would be perfectly in order, but when the freedom fighter got it in 1991 there was considerable anger at the award coming too late.

Ustad Vilayat Khan refused the Padma Vibhushan because “junior” artistes had got higher awards. Surely the objection would not have been there had he got the award 25 years earlier.

How things happen or happen when they do are questions both journalists and historians feel compelled to answer. But alas, explanations are often inadequate because the variables both groups concern themselves with are not as well-behaved as the motions of heavenly bodies.

Hence we cannot answer why the Bharat Ratna could not be given to Major Dhyan Chand when India won the Olympic gold in hockey for the last time in 1980, the year after he died. Or what happened to Sunil Gavaskar after he broke Don Bradman’s record? If the rules can be tweaked to give sportspersons the award now, they could have been tweaked then.

The Bharat Ratna aligns with capital punishment in a very major respect. Both should be above debate and question. And herein lies the most important similarity between Afzal Guru’s hanging and Tendulkar’s award. Both are highly questionable.