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The South Indians have their heroes, the Bengalis have theirs and the Hindi heartland has very many of its own. Throw in former leaders and other people of eminence and you have a large number of contenders for the country’s top honour, the Bharat Ratna. So this year, as in previous years, there is a right royal battle going on about who should get the coveted award. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee seems a shoo-in this year but the Bengalis are up in arms about reports of very belated plans to confer it on Subhas Chandra Bose. It is a pity that this honour too has become tainted with politics and pettiness. Greatness is not geography-specific so all these claims about people from certain regions not getting the awards seem disturbing. In any event, the problem lies in the fact that no government has shown that it is able to rise above partisan considerations and will try and steer the awards in the direction of its own heroes or heroines.
The questioning of these awards can go on ad nauseum. Why are there not more women in the honours’ list? The Congress wants the award to go to Annie Besant. The Dalit hero Kanshi Ram is Mayawati’s choice. Perhaps EV Ramaswami Naicker should have got it. In fact, given the diversity and size of India, there are literally thousands who could qualify for the honour. One way to avoid this would be to take this out of the hands of the government and, like the Academy Awards, leave it to a panel of peers. Thanks to the current squabbling and accusations of bias, the award is fast losing its sheen.
There have been many ugly stories of people actually lobbying for awards. There are cases of choices which are clearly politically motivated. It can be argued that in the case of the really great, they are beyond governmental honours. But everyone likes public recognition, and great people are no exception. But such honour should serve as an inspiration to others, not become a source of contention and envy as we are seeing now. And to make matters worse, what we see today is various groups saying ‘our hero is better than your hero’. This time too when the Bharat Ratna awards are announced, you can be certain that there will be an almighty kerfuffle over the names and whether or not those chosen are deserving of the honour. This does diminish the value of the whole thing.