Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw take a salute as he reviews a parede by 61 Cavalry, the only horse mounted regiment of the Indian Army in Delhi.
I can’t claim to know what the Prime Minister is thinking but if my hunch is correct I feel it would not be out of place to offer my personal advice. If he accepts what I’m about to propose he can only benefit by doing so.
Five days from today is Independence Day. It will be Mr Modi’s first as Prime Minister. It’s also the perfect opportunity to announce one or two Bharat Ratna awards.
To be honest, I’m sure this is something he must have in mind. It’s an opportunity to recognise people whose services to the nation have been unfairly and wrongly overlooked.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, I’m confident, will be at the top of that list. I, therefore, expect Mr Vajpayee to be given the Bharat Ratna whenever the Prime Minister makes his first announcement.
However, Mr Vajpayee is not the only person who’s been overlooked. There is at least one other equally deserving candidate who did not find favour with successive Congress prime ministers. It’s the need to recognise him — and on the first possible occasion — that I wish to advise Mr Modi about. In fact, he’s been overlooked longer than Mr Vajpayee. Therefore, the case to make amends is possibly greater.
The person I have in mind was undoubtedly India’s premier officer and gentleman. He is Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw.
Let me give you two irresistible reasons why the Field Marshal deserves the Bharat Ratna. First, he led independent India to its only military victory of which we, as a nation, remain unceasingly proud. It is, undoubtedly, the high point of the Indian defence services.
It was, however, more than just a military victory. It split Pakistan in half, hugely diminishing the security and strategic threat from that country. It also propelled India to dominance throughout South Asia. No other single event has more dramatically changed the way the world views us.
A second reason for this recognition is it would be honouring our army if not our defence services. This is something our dhoti-kurta politicians owe our men in uniform. For footling reasons they’ve shied away. Instead, they’ve showered awards on their own kind, many of which were not just questionable but very possibly undeserved. Consequently, politicians have got more Bharat Ratnas than they should have. The defence services haven’t got a single one. The Field Marshal would be the right way to start.
Dissenters might argue Field Marshal Manekshaw is dead. So what? Of the 43 people who received the Bharat Ratna, 11 got it posthumously. One of them, Vallabhbhai Patel, 41 years after his death. Another, Gopinath Bordoloi, after 49 years. The Field Marshal has been dead only seven years.
More importantly, if Rajiv Gandhi and MG Ramachandran deserved the award, can you really argue Manekshaw did not? And who would dispute Manekshaw’s services were greater and more memorable than those of Aruna Asaf Ali and Abdul Kalam, both of whom got the Bharat Ratna in 1997? Third, if being remembered is grounds for the award Manekshaw would top everyone’s list. In contrast, who remembers Bhagwan Das, Gulzarilal Nanda, VV Giri and Kamaraj?
My final argument: Mahatma Gandhi never got the Nobel Prize and that diminished the prize. If they could have awarded it posthumously the Nobel Committee would have jumped to make up their lapse. The Bharat Ratna, on the other hand, is often awarded after death. This is Mr Modi’s chance to correct a mistake.
The views expressed by the author are personal