So how did the New Year begin? Militants attacked two primary schools in Pakistan. North India stayed cold. When the going got tough in Test cricket, as it did last year in governing Delhi, the team-leader went off the field. Can you imagine that happening in a really accountable profession - a doctor quitting midway through an operation or a general going home halfway through a battle? And yet it's politicians and entertainers (a sportsman is an entertainer) who seem to get the Bharat Ratna. Those who do really useful things for the Indian people, like the citizens behind our food revolution and milk revolution, don't seem to count.
The Bharat Ratna was announced 60 years ago, on January 2, 1954, by the office of the President of India. The awardees are recommended by the prime minister. This fact is out there in the public domain but I wonder how many of us know or remember that Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi awarded themselves the Bharat Ratna. Nehru, prime minister from 1947 to 1964, recommended himself for the Bharat Ratna in 1955 and Indira Gandhi recommended herself in 1971, during her first tenure as prime minister (1966-77). VV Giri, President of India from 1969 to 1974, who ceremonially conferred it on Indira Gandhi, received it in turn in 1975.
You'd think they would have been embarrassed to do that, wouldn't you? What price, the much-vaunted 'refinement' of Congress leaders that is often contrasted with the homespun ways of the BJP and the regional parties? How is awarding yourself the country's highest civilian honour less vulgar than ordering statues of yourself all over Uttar Pradesh, as Mayawati did, or disfiguring Chennai with cardboard cutouts as JayLi and her rivals, the Karunanidhis, did?
The award was even suspended for some time as no more than a political toy, by prime minister Morarji Desai. As all know, it has attracted its share of controversy. But the Bharat Ratna can play its part in nation-building if used to meaningfully state India's principles again to her people. In my view, although we love them dearly for beguiling our hours of ease, artistes, film personalities and sports stars should not automatically qualify for this award.
It should ideally be given to those who have significantly contributed to improving the health, nutrition, education and enablement of our disadvantaged and disabled, to those who invent and adapt for the greater good, who actually empower the lives of our people. India's shame remains our lack of conscience that so many citizens live in such utter indignity while the state has increasingly demonstrated that it is reactive, not proactive, by honouring politicians and entertainers.
Our longing for a new era may be better achieved if we honour the genuine contributors among us and hold up worthy examples to our young that the idealism that still lights many a young and sincere heart is not extinguished. This would be good religion and definitely good culture for a country as full of hopes and dreams as ours, where so many still work for the public good and for the sake of the many among us who never had a chance.