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‘Politicking’ over the Bharat Ratna award

The clamour for the nation's highest civilian award this year has become louder than ever before. Sutirtho Patranobis reports.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2008 03:47 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times

The clamour for the Bharat Ratna this year has become louder than ever before. Taking a cue from the BJP’s LK Advani pitching for former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee, the BSP’s Mayawati on Saturday demanded that her mentor Kanshi Ram be posthumously conferred the country’s highest civilian award.

Meanwhile, veteran CPM leader Jyoti Basu on Saturday said he was not in the race for receiving the Bharat Ratna. This comes after the CPM on Saturday said the party has not suggested to the Centre on conferring the Bharat Ratna to Basu. “I do not know whether the Central government is considering it, but we have never demanded that Basu be awarded the Bharat Ratna. Our party has never sought official honour,” CPM politburo member Biman Bose was quoted by party mouthpiece Ganashakti.

His comment came a day after the Congress said there was nothing wrong in proposing Basu’s name for the Bharat Ratna. “When the name of Vajpayee has come up for Bharat Ratna, there is nothing wrong in naming Jyoti Basu,” Congress’s Veerappa Moily said on Friday.

The contest for the Ratna is more about strengthening constituencies in a fractured polity than about honouring national icons. If the Vajpayee persona fetched the BJP Brahmin votes, it was Kanshi Ram who built the BSP on which Mayawati stands tall today.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad lent a lighter touch to the controversy by rejecting Advani's idea on the ground that the government shouldn't become a party to Vajpayee's retirement from politics.

On Basu’s name coming up for the award, CPM Politburo member M.K. Pandhe said: “Our party does not approve of such awards. During Narasimha Rao’s tenure as PM in the ’90s, CPM general secretary E.M.S. Namboodiripad refused the Padma Vibhushan he was offered.”

Pandhe pointed out that CPI(M) members in West Bengal and Kerala were known to reject even the freedom fighters’ pension as they viewed it as a government dole.

“Our Presidential candidate Laxmi Sehgal is one such freedom fighter who refused the pension and the (Padma) award,” said Pandhe.

CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan had his own take on the debate.

“We are anti-establishment and are fighting the state to attain a socialist society. So, we are against any state awards,” he said.

The RSP’s Abani Roy said Basu’s name was only a counter to Vajpayee’s.

BJP sources said Advani proposed Vajpayee’s name out of sincerity and to pre-empt perhaps the DMK’s reported move to propose M. Karuna-nidhi’s name for the Bharat Ratna.

Be that as it may, the award has been mired in several controversies over the choice of candidates in recent years.

One such debate erupted when AIADMK founder M.G. Ramachandran was bestowed Bharat Ratna in 1988 — two years before B.R. Ambedkar, three years before Sardar Vallabhbai Patel and four years before Subhash Chandra Bose, whose family refused it as a belated honour.

It is not mandatory for the government to announce the award each year on Republic Day.

The Ratna was last conferred on shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan and Lata Mangeshkar in 2001.