To honour cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar with the Bharat Ratna, the government had to open India’s highest civilian honour for “exceptional service” to all fields from four, a reply under the Right To Information (RTI) Act has revealed.
Earlier, the honour was restricted to art, literature, science and public service.
A home ministry official’s note from 2011 makes it clear the inclusion of sports “was to honour Sachin Tendulkar”.
In the note, the official also raises questions about ignoring other sports legends such as Major Dhyan Chand (hockey), Jaspal Rana (shooting), Viswanathan Anand (chess) and PT Usha (athletics).
Ajay Maken, the then sports minister, had written to the home ministry for inclusion of sports as a field for the Bharat Ratna award.
The home ministry did not agree with its official’s view and fought shy of taking a decision because as no amendment was ever made in the rules for Bharat Ratna since its inception in 1954.
A decision was taken to refer the matter to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
The PMO too was willing to take a call and asked the home ministry to send its view on including sports as one of the fields for the award.
The deliberations started again in the ministry, which in a bid to avoid controversy over Tendulkar, recommended the award should be open to all fields.
The PMO agreed and said, “The decoration shall be awarded in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavour.”
The President’s Secretariat notified the change in 2011, paving the way for the honour to be bestowed upon Tendulkar.
The same year, the government had received references for conferring the honour on several achievers including former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former president APJ Abdul Kalam, Major Dhyan Chand and agriculture scientist MS Swaminathan.