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Sachin should give up pursuing money and power

Your Bharat Ratna did not come, as it used to, as a pleasant surprise. It came with a “lekin…” But now, Bharat Ratna Sachin Tendulkar, surprise the nation by what you do with it. Writes Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

india Updated: Nov 27, 2013 07:58 IST
Gopalkrishna Gandhi

The Bharat Ratna, until not long ago, came as a surprise to its recipients, a joy to the nation.

It is different now.

People, or sections of them, canvass for the Bharat Ratna being given to their icons. They write, petition, lobby for their ‘cause’. And the Indian State responds, taking its own time and making its own calculations. It chooses its hour and while giving a formal rationale, keeps some of its reasons to itself.

If one were to analyse the 43 Bharat Ratnas given since 1954 one would see that those decorated in the Prasad-Nehru era were ‘obvious’ Bharat Ratnas, nationally respected, nationally acclaimed : the statesman C Rajagopalachari, the philosopher S Radhakrishnan, the physicist CV Raman, the visionary engineer M Visvesvaraya, the social reformer DK Karve, the educationist Zakir Husain, the Sanskritist PV Kane, the sagacious chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Govind Ballabh Pant, the medical legend and chief minister of West Bengal Bidhan Chandra Roy, the rishi-like patriot Purushottam Das Tandon, Prasad and Nehru themselves.

Sardar Patel had died before the Bharat Ratna was instituted. Maulana Azad declined to accept. Else, both would have been among the inaugural recipients.

Two persons who were alive then and went on to be given the Bharat Ratna posthumously ought to have been given the Bharat Ratna then: BR Ambedkar should, in my view, have been in the very first list, with Jayaprakash Narayan following. JP, perhaps, would have, typically to his temperament, declined. But the Bharat Ratna would have been well served. And two Acharyas — Narendra Deva, who died two years after the Bharat Ratna came into being, and J B Kripalani who lived for nearly three decades thereafter — should have been among the very early Ratnas. All states are fallible and the Prasad-Nehru era was no exception.

There were no posthumous Bharat Ratnas in that era, the scheme did not envisage that form. That was wise and prudent, for how far back could the State think of going? To the Buddha himself, the emperors Akbar and Ashoka?

The posthumous category started in 1966, with the just-deceased prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. The Bharat Ratna to that much-loved man was hugely welcomed. It was posthumous in a strictly technical sense, because as President Radhakrishnan told the nation, he had decided to make Shastri a Bharat Ratna on the prime minister’s return from Tashkent.

Posthumous awards are a curious affair. Generally, the posthumous shine is on the giver, not on the receiver. To put it bluntly, posthumous awards have ‘matlab’ (a base purpose) rather than ‘maena’ (an honourable reason). They manipulate, not decorate. They are, basically, about smart time-management, of the seizing of a moment and, not un-often, of artificially creating a moment.

Not all, but some of the seven posthumous Bharat Ratnas have been clearly tactical, a province being pleased here, a community appeased there. Some posthumous Bharat Ratnas have been clearly given to please, others to not displease. While those sought to be pleased have had their moment of self-fulfilment, there was honest incredulity among others: ‘Bharat Ratna…posthumous ? Now…after so many years…?’

For some time now, the Bharat Ratna’s peepul pendant has been placed on live shoulders, not phantoms. But smart or over-smart manipulations of the moment can happen ‘humously’ as well. Unfortunately for the Bharat Ratna’s stature, its conferment on Tendulkar at this point of time, has come with a whiff of ‘matlab’. Even those genuinely happy for “the little master” have felt “Wah, lekin…Bravo….but”. The timing of it has added to the joy of his decoration that “lekin…but …”.

The raga Marwa sung, as it should be, at dusk, is one thing; played on a got-up stage at noon, it can be quite another. Coming as it did when the nation was going through, rather elaborately and excessively, a cathartic moment in Tendulkar’s ‘farewell’, the Bharat Ratna announcement was like a ticketless stadium-crasher, a photo-op peeker. The parallel announcement of the Bharat Ratna for CNR Rao was respected but also came with a “lekin… MS Swaminathan has kept hunger away from the nation…Should he not be a Bharat Ratna? ”

If even the Nehru era saw omissions, can the present be different? What now, with Bharat Ratna Sachin Tendulkar?

We are great ones, we Indians, for giving unsolicited advice. Let me be a true Indian in that respect and, with the pendant in mind, say this to its youngest wearer:

The design of the peepul leaf on the Bharat Ratna pendant cannot be accidental. Why did Nehru not choose a rose-bud, or the outline of a lotus? Why the peepul? It can only be because of its associations with the Great Renunciate. Every Bodhi tree and every peepul leaf reminds us of the Tathagata’s teaching. It stands for a certain detachment, a certain freedom from worldliness, from ‘matlab’. Let your first such example be of your own type of ‘renunciation’.

Desist from appearing in commercial advertisements. A Bharat Ratna cannot appear in pop-up endorsements. You do not need the money, and can do without the anomaly. Next, please take a stand against the crass monetisation of that noble sport, its fixings and re-fixings, intrigues, and the auctioning of cricketers, their selling of their gift to bidders. But most importantly, go now, little master, beyond cricket. Having done some amazing things with the willow, do something beautiful for India. A thousand causes scream out for you to adopt.

Your Bharat Ratna did not come, as it used to, as a pleasant surprise. It came with a “lekin…” But now, Bharat Ratna Sachin Tendulkar, surprise the nation by what you do with it. Become a spokesman for India’s multiple agonies and all that which the Sakyamuni called ‘dukkha’. As the Bodhi-leaf settles on your shoulders, think of his renouncing the world of wealth and power and by so doing, redeem your Bharat Ratna’s old ‘matlab’ by a new ‘maena’.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor

The views expressed by the author are personal