If all PMs are Bharat Ratnas, why are we like this?

PRATAP SHARMA in New Delhi and PALINI R. SWAMY in Bangalore write: Modern-day Indian politics, devoid of ideological or intellectual substance, or a semblance of shame, has largely become about creating nuisance and/or causing embarrassment. To that empty barrel can be added L.K. Advani‘s gratuitous advice to prime minister Manmohan Singh to decorate Atal Behari Vajpayee with the country’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna.

Whether this is the Loh Purush‘s way of saying thank-you to the Vikas Purush for making way for his installation as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the next general election, we do not know. Whether he is conveying a coded intimation of the mortality of the mukhauta, who is in poor health, we can only guess. But in formally sending an application recommending Vajpayee’s name, and helpfully releasing it to the media, the BJP has scored three goals.

It has lobbed a candidate’s name that the BJP’s drumbeaters will keep in the air till Republic Day; it has set the cat among the left pigeons who will soon stir the hornet’s nest; and it has pushed the government into a corner.

Proof: the Congress’s emerging joker-in-chief, M. Veerappa Moily, has said, “If Vajpayee’s name can be proposed, why can’t we consider Jyoti Basu?” (Indeed, one news story today suggests that Advani suggested Vajpayee’s name only when the BJP got wind that the UPA was considering the former West Bengal chief minister for the honour.)

Don’t be surprised if you receive an SMS or email soon asking you to join the campaign to get Vajpayee his rightful due.

Or Basu, his leftful due.

No one in his senses in any part of the country would deny that Vajpayee is a good, decent and honourable man. He has been around for a long, long time. He has conducted himself both as an opposition leader and as a leader of a coalition with admirable grace. He has made some fine speeches and recited some awful poems. And above all, he has steadfastly refused to spew hatred that is the signature of most of his party men.

But do we hand out a Bharat Ratna for that?

Like most things with the BJP, Advani’s recommendation letter puts the onus of detecting the truth on the discerning reader.

“He is the first PM to have led a stable and successful coalition… He not only preached but practised coalition dharma… He lent support to Indira Gandhi during the Bangladesh war… He supported P.V. Narasimha Rao‘s economic liberaliation programme… Under his premiership, India became a nuclear weapons power… and won the Kargil war… He initiated the bilateral talks with Pakistan….”

You can believe what you want to in that list of “salient points”.

You can even disbelieve this letter to the editor of Deccan Herald today.

It would be a joke to ask for the conferment of the prestigious Bharat Ratna award on Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who as the Prime Minister looked the other way when his own countrymen were being killed by mindless mobs in Gujarat. It resulted in one of the worst genocides wherein thousands of innocents lost their lives. This single episode blackened Vajpayee’s face and weakened the secular unity of the nation beyond comprehension.

L. Krishna Rajesh, Bangalore

But Advani’s letter stands out for two reasons. It openly demands an honour, the irony of which may be difficult to detect in this day and age. And it politicises an honour that desperately needs to be depoliticised—and had been quite successfully in the last few years.

It would be fun to watch, of course, wouldn’t it, if the UPA steals the BJP’s thunder and magnanimously hands it out to Vajpayee. What will the BJP kvetch about then? But in a politics built on vengeance and rancour, and divided between pseudo-secularism and pseudo-nationalism, that is easier dismissed than considered. If the UPA government declines to bite, as is likely, rest assured that its applications will be trashed if and when an NDA government is in charge.

Already, you can hear the knives being sharpened. To information and broadcasting minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi‘s equally gratuitous advice that it would have been better had the BJP first honoured Vajpayee within the party, you can hear Rajiv Pratap Rudy rudely reminding the world that Dasmunsi’s response doesn’t deserve a riposte: “His political stature is not such that he can comment on stalwarts like Advani and Vajpayee.”

Make no mistake, if there’s anybody in the BJP who deserves it, it is Vajpayee and Vajpayee alone.

After all, three prime ministers from one family—Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi—have walked away with the Bharat Ratna, the first two when they were in charge, the third posthumously. Two other prime ministers—Lal Bahadur Shastri posthumously and Morarji Desai—too have got it.

If a very dodgy president like V.V. Giri and a borderline chief minister like M.G. Ramachandran could get it, Vajpayee is surely assured of his place in the Hall of Fame.

But the question here is of propriety and precedence.

Advani and the BJP are using Vajpayee like a political football to score a few brownie points in a surcharged political atmosphere. Does the old man even know that such a game is being played in his name?

And they are setting a very bad precedent. A high civilian honour should be conferred by the government of the day, not to be demanded or extorted out of it, not certainly by making an obnoxious public spectacle out of it.

In violating both, the BJP will win a few short-term gains. But in the long run, the prize gets diminished in the eyes of the people who award it. And in the eyes of those awarded.

Also read: Anybody for the Bharat Ratna?

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu Business Line

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31 Responses to “If all PMs are Bharat Ratnas, why are we like this?”

  1. Mayura Says:

    Vajapayee should refuse to accept the Bharatratna if it is awarded to him, since it has been already sullied by being awarded to the good for nothing Nehru family and the idiot MGR. You do not want to be in the same league as these morons.

    It is like somebody agreeing to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, even after knowing that it was awarded to that terrorist leader Yasser Arafat

  2. Not A Witty Nick Says:

    He was the only one with guts enough to speak Hindi in UNO, if you could praise Nehru for doing what he was supposed to do then, why not Vajapayee?

  3. Vijay Dev Says:

    MGR is certainly not an idiot. People need to think before they comment on someone who is no more. Come to TN and ask a layman what he thinks about MGR and u ll know… But I would definitely not expect anything brainy from those who dubs the Nehru family “good for nothing” (even after taking into account all their misdeeds)

    And afaik, Yasser Arafat is not a terrorist leader as well..

  4. Ram Says:

    Bharata Ratna is awarded to all and sundry and perhaps the wily communist leader from W Begal who lives the life of a capitalist would get too, and his name sits along with MGR the wooden actor whose only contribution was dance and dally with teenage actresses like Jayalalitha (In 1960s I should add). If the guy from W Bengal gets it ( I thought that he was dead, he has been around since I was in my secondary school and I am a senior citizen now!), so too would Thiru Karuna.

    I agree Vajpayee should not accept the award which is as valuable as a sub-prime mortgage document!

  5. Abhi Says:

    Bharat Ratna to Jyoti Basu? For what? For ruining the state of West Bengal for more than 20 years? For accumulating thousands of crore in his decades of “public service”? To put an entire state in jeopardy to prove a retrograde ideology which he believes? Just find out how many thousands of crore he has amassed over the years.

    You are sying “if anyone deserves Bharat Ratna in BJP, it’s Vajapayee”. I would like to modify it to “if anyone deserves Bharat Ratna amongst Indian politicians, it’s Vajapayee. Vajapayee is someone who has dedicated his personal life for the country to the extent that he remained unmarried. He has no house, car of his own. For heaven’s sake don’t compare him to Jyoti Basu.

  6. babuds Says:

    Bharat Ratna (The Indian handloom) is the highest award that can be given to people who have provided great service to nation. But as I see, it is mostly given to current or ex prime ministers. On that count and from the seniority list, I think our Ex prime minister HD Deve Gowda deserves it, before any other ex prime minister.

  7. Balaji Says:

    I think its fair to argue that Vajpayee deserves the Bharat Ratna. Advani asking the PM publicly is the problem. The BJP can as well give the honor if and when it comes to power. But that would be bracketed along with the utterly disgraceful award given to Rajiv Gandhi. A Congress govt recognizing Vajpayee would be wholly appropriate.

    I don’t know whether VV Giri, Morarji Desai and Indira deserved it. But I think Lal Bahudur Satri did deserve the honor. As for Ramachandran, he thoroughly deserved it. Imagine an uneducated orphan (born to Malayalee parents in Srilanka) going to dizzying heights in Cinema and Politics. If that is not an achievement, then what is?

  8. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Dear All,

    IMHO there should be a new award along the lines of Bharat Ratna. This one should be called Bharat Khatna!

    My nominees are

    1. Dirty Devegowda
    2. Laloo Yadav
    3. Jyoti Basu
    4. Arjun Singh
    5. MM Singh
    6. Prakash Karat
    7. add your names here….

  9. Anonymous Guy Says:

    The pic reminds me of Shahrukh as Manoj Kumar in Om Shanti Om!

  10. Ananth Shenoy Says:

    Amar Singh: Bharath Ratna with added Chanakya Award
    Kanimozhi: for quick cousin replacement.

  11. Bahuroopi Says:

    Like the Nehru family, the Numero Uno of Karnataka Nataka family should be given the awards starting from the Don himself.

  12. John Says:

    @ Balagi , If that is not an achievement, then what is?

    The BHARAT RATNA has some dignity in it.
    MGR had no morals in his private life and so He was not a deserving candidate.

  13. Aatmasakshi Says:

    Veerappa Moily takes great pride in coming up with the Common Entrance Test for admission to engineering and medical courses when he was chief minister of Karnataka. The man should now come up with a CET for the Bharat Ratna, given the rate at which applicants are lining for the civilian honour. At least this way we can be assured that only the best and brightest get it.

  14. Harsha Says:

    I just hope you were kidding about MGR.

  15. Not A Witty Nick Says:

    What’s a CET?
    Where do you find it?

  16. shreeram Says:

    BJP cant see beyond north india and north indians…. there vision is just restricted to hindi belt…. bharat ratna should be given to dr.rajkumar for his immense contribution towards Kannada cinema…. or it should be given to a indian farmer who despite the anti poor policies of both the state and central govts in india has survived to fight it for yet an another day….

  17. Faldo Says:

    I believe the honor should be given for a person’s contribution to the country as a whole. It could well be that the person has follies. Just because a person came up in life or was in some position, he or she would not automatically qualify.

  18. Aatmasakshi Says:

    The Hindutwits have opened the floodgates by proposing Vajpayee’s name. Now Mayawati wants the Bharat Ratna for Kanshi Ram. Soon Ajit Singh should be demanding it for his wonderful father, Chaudhury Charan Singh. Farooq Abdullah should be preparing his application for Sheikh Abdullah. Of course, Kanimozhi has already jotted down Karunanidhi’s name.

    Ram, save the Bharat Ratna.

  19. gaby Says:

    Just curious-after Shreerams comment- could someone enlighten me about Rajkumar’s contribution to Indian Cinema- without going into hyperbole/ without showering invective on me/ without wanting to stone my house- I realise this is not the best place to ask this question but have this question from a long time- cld some one plz help me out in specific and concrete terms- the contributions in bullet points would be helpful.

  20. Nastika Says:

    Gaby, what is MGR’s contribution to India? If he can get it, why not Dr Raj? Thats the logic.

  21. captainjohann Says:

    I cannot understand the people’s obsession with politicians. the only person living who can be given is Mr.Narayana Murthy, but then the kannada crabs have already pulling him down in the guise of national anthem case.
    I will include KapilDev because he brought that boldness to cricket which is followed by the likes of Sehwag and Dhoni.Gawaskar and tendulkars are statisticians.
    I will even think of giving an award to that naxalite TAMIL Brahmin who married a sindhi girl and vasectomised himself for the cause of naxalism.He may be a misguided youth but he has created the biggest internal security problem for the business class of India who have no cORPORAL SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY.

  22. shreeram Says:

    Mr.gaby i respect ur opinion… but i want to make some things clear…

    1) no where i have mentioned about rajkumar’s contribution to indian cinema but i have mentioned kannada cinema..

    2) And if u take the indian cinema then also rajkumar stands tall among his counterparts. who in indian cinema history has done roles of all genres(historical,mythological,social,family,romance,tragedy) with such ease… only telugu star NTR comes close for acting in these many genres.

    3) when kannadigas think of gods or kings like krishnadevaraya or mayura or ranadheera the face of rajkumar comes in their mind… such was his acting and personality.

    4) I find no actor who could have done so many diverse roles with such elan. even the stars from our neighborhood states have acknowledged his greatness.

    5) And no other actor in indian cinema has performed with so much dignity both on and off screen. He didnt use any swear words on and off screen and never touched cigaratte or liquor on the screen thus fit to be a role model for todays youth.

    6) And one last thought i think kannada cinema also comes under indian cinema only(indian cinema is not only bollywood). so there is no fault in awarding a legendary kannada film actor with highest civilian honour of india.

  23. Doode Says:

    ……. And Revanna is wanting one for him and one for his father and one for his sheep!!!

  24. Madhav Says:

    As a person who has learnt his politics by reading papers and watching tv, i have this to say.

    Atal Vajpayee’s biggest contribution to India and its future governments is the extraordinary steps he took to reach out to pakistan and put it on record – the efforts taken to offer a hand of friendship to pakistan. This has to be viewed in the background of bleeding of India due to Pakistan’s policies, which has been happening over the last many decades and in all possibility will keep on happening.

    When the future government secretraries and ministers sit down negotiations the overbearing peace efforts of Vajpayee will put Pakistan’s side on a backfoot. It is upto to the Indian govts of today and future to articulate their policy tactics under this umbrella.

    This strategy becomes all the more potent, with the backdrop of the Nuclear Bomb ready and more research going on.

    Another, major contribution of Vajpayee has been the Golden Quadrilateral. Though not complete – (a US president’s promise is a promise for all future govts too) the Golden Quadrilateral is an emphatic statement of the govt of the day, that it knows what it means to be a developed country and what secular development should be.

    On a lighter note – a group of small farmers growing churumuri ingredient Dhaniya (kotembri soppu) know what these roads can do to their business – when the truck with a load kotembri soppu, has to travel by night and reach the destination by sunrise. There are hundreds and thousands of such farmers in our country – who cannot transport their produce on time.

    A kind man, a silent doer, under whose term we had our best president, no politics of vengeance, a politician who can orate (the best?), a man who brought statesmanly bearing to the PM’s post, a man who brought the out of control gujarat riots under control, a man who did not humiliate the Gandhi family when in power (this is for the sycophants), and who could lead without gandhi tag !

    And unlike other politicians who policies and acts will loose relevance a period – Vajpayee’s main initiatives will not lose relevance for quite some time.

  25. shishir sathe Says:

    ….A latest addition to the distinguished list….
    Bahadur Shah Zafar….Though he was not a PM ever, he was a ‘head-of-state’ some 150 years back !!


    Now, are we going to have nominations for the iluustrious kings and queens of pre-Raj India…How about starting from Ashok the great ;) ?
    May be then Chandragupta, Chanakya, …Akbar, Shahjahan, Chh. Shivaji ….this list will suffice till 2050 @ 6 B-Rs per year !!! Till, then AB Vajpayee, Jyoti Basu would have been history themselves !!!!

  26. Aatmasakshi Says:

    Now Bihar wants it for Karpoori Thakur.


  27. bharatratna Says:

    plz can anyone write petition on my(bharat ratna) behalf that i should be given only to my true son of the soil the great “Afzal Guru”. Plz its urgent . i want to be touched by him before he is sent to gallows or he dies a natural death(whichever is earlier)

  28. ashwini prasad,dubai Says:

    Now the Bharatha ratna the greatest civilian award has lost its value as it is being biased,no matter even nobel prizes are biased .
    I think our ex-president Dr.kalamsir is the only suitable pesonto receive this award for his outstanding contribution in the field of science and his concern for the nation .

  29. swim Says:

    To all who have been commenting about MGR regarding Bharatha ratna. I would sincerely like to convey one message that MGR never asked for the award which was conffered to him after his death. One gentleman Mr Balaji has commented that MGR had no morals so he does not have the right to get the award. What about Nehru’s private life? His relations with Lady Mountbatten was well known and with others also. MGR by profession was an actor so he has to act with actresses. That has nothing to do with the common man. He refused to accept padmasri on the basis that it did not have words in tamil. Such was is sincerity to the language and the state to which he belonged. I feel that Balaji may be a Actor Shivaji fan. ok Balaji bye

  30. Doddi Buddi Says:

    How about Dirty Devegowda? He is a one-man talking machine of infinite inane possibilities! He will complete the end of Bharath Rathna. Please give it to the humble farmer:)

  31. govindarajan Says:

    Bharat Ratna is the highest honour conferred in our country.
    The choice of choosing the right person deserving the honour should be left to the people of the country

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