A farmers’ bugbear trumps a farmers’ bandhu

ASHWINI A. writes from Bangalore: Artists and artistes have angled for it; bureaucrats have gone on bended knees for it; industrialists have moved mountains for it. Lobbying, self-promotion, chamchagiri, proximity, friendship, favouritism, nepotism, caste, region, religion, language—everything counts in the Great Padma Race.

Sometimes, when none of that works, the truly deserving get it.

So, let’s not bury ourselves in the burroughs of our mind pretending that the Congress-led UPA government has done something new or unheard of. If, for all its sanctimony, the BJP-led NDA government of Atal Behari Vajpayee could hand it to the surgeon who operated on his knee, it shows that there are no angels in the nanga hamaam.

Still, a nation subliminally reveals itself in the kind of people it chooses to drape the tricolour around. And, in the process, a government reveals how its mind works in the way it goes about it.

So, whilst we may blow hot air over whether N.R. Narayana Murthy should have been chosen for the Padma Vibhushan the same calendar year he “insulted” the national anthem, and whether a one-hit wonder like Manoj Night Shyamalan should have got the Padma Shri, there is one unmissable irony in the UPA list.

And it is this: P. Sainath, the pioneering journalist who implanted the plight of our farmers on the national consciousness, has been ignored. And K.V. Kamath, whose ICICI Bank has played a stellar in the deaths of so many debt-ridden farmers, has been recognised with a Padma Bhushan.

No to Sainath, yes to Kamath: how’s that for a cocktail coalition that came to power on the aam admi‘s shoulders and is forever announcing farmers’ packages!?

As it is, the omission of a journalism giant like Sainath from the honours’ list is surprising when relative gnomes in the profession like Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt are on it. It reveals the kind of visibility that the mandarins of New Delhi prefer, despite all the pre-poll rhetoric about “reforms with a human face”.

But even if that can be explained as a savvy, politically correct move to give television its due with elections around the corner, it is the Sainath-Kamath disconnect that is the more striking.

True, Kamath has been a visionary banker, who in the space of a decade has created a global giant that is snapping at the heels of State Bank of India. But what is ICICI Bank’s record and reputation despite all its growth and profits? It is the byword for banking thuggery and each day it sets ever lower standards.

It hires goondas and criminals to recover money from loan defaulters. It employs thugs to flex their muscle and take away cars at traffic signals if they miss an EMI. Its foul-mouthed “executives” call customers in the middle of the night and mouth obscenities to housewives to break them down.

Government workers with a Rs 15,000 loan have died, unable to bear the physical torture. And dozens of debt-ridden farmers have eaten pesticides, unable to bear the humiliation. No single bank has prompted the Supreme Court and Reserve Bank of India more in issuing fresh guidelines than Kamath’s ICICI.

For this, we decorate him with the Padma Bhushan?

Is this the Manmohan Singh government’s way of running with the farming hares and hunting with the banking hounds?

In the opposite corner is Palagummi Sainath, whose reports in the last decade and a half on the plight of farmers and the myriad issues confronting the farming community, post-liberalisation, have shamed governments, exposed the bureaucracy, and stirred the conscience of the public.

A man whom Amartya Sen describes as “one of the world’s greatest experts on famine and hunger.”

In 2006, when Manmohan Singh was going to Vidarbha to announce a package for India’s worst-affected farming belt, he invited not his agriculture minister or some IAS officer but Sainath to brief him. Yet, when it comes to a civilian honour, a bugbear of farmers gets the nod over the benefactor of farmers.

Maybe, Sainath was asked, but he said no.

Maybe, but how likely considering that he has had no qualms in receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award among several others?

Still, a civilian honour for a CEO whose bank has institutionalised criminal ways for loan recovery reveals more than a little on how the “system” works. And the lack of civilian recognition for a missionary journalist, whom the world honours, for writing about the trials, troubles and tribulations of those who feed us, tells its own story.

But, maybe it’s a good thing Sainath is not on the list.

On a list dotted with bold-face corporate names like Ratan Tata and Lakshmi Mittal, Suresh Neotia (Gujarat Ambuja) and Shiv Nadar (HCL), Baba Kalyani (Bharat Forge) and Vikram Pandit (Citigroup), Amit Mitra (FICCI) and Colette Mathur (World Economic Forum), Sainath would have looked very odd indeed.

Maybe. But how likely?

Photographs: courtesy The Hindu (Kamath); Sadanand Menon (Sainath)

Also read: Wish good night to K.V. Kamath and his whizkids

SUDHEENDRA KULKARNI on P. Sainath: ‘Take big steps, urgent steps, fast-paced steps’

Does death not count if it is not due to terrorism?

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20 Responses to “A farmers’ bugbear trumps a farmers’ bandhu”

  1. Bhaskar Chatterjee Says:

    If India were following capitalism since 1947, and not what is espoued by Mahalanobis, Sainaths, Jayati Ghoshs, Ashok Mitras- the situation of people, farmers would have been much better today.

    Its people like Sainath, Jayati and their ideology that are responsible largely for today’s mess.

    UPA will probably write off 50,000 crores of Farmers loan as election is coming, but that will fill pocket of small banks, money lenders- like the one run by present Indian President!

    By the way, Why doesn’t Sainath writes on people dying out of hunger in West Bengal?

  2. ERR Says:

    If Manoj Night Shymalan has made it, It’s not far for Monty Panessar, Dr. Hanief to make it to the awards from PIO list!

  3. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Good article. We should give these awards to the deserving or it is high time we should do away with them.

  4. Narayana Says:


    These awards have no meaning. As someone said, blind men distribute sweets among themselves.

  5. Bibek Chatterjee Says:

    A man whom Amartya Sen describes as “one of the world’s greatest experts on famine and hunger.”

    I like this instant conferring of greatness to people by other great people. It reminds me how Chomsky conferred the title of “a prominent scholar” on Finkelstein, and Finkelstein then proceeded to throw poo at Chomsky’s bete noir Dershowitz (followed by Finkelstein’s cri de coeur at being denied a tenure, quite a yahudi civil war).

    Commies really really dig such awards, they also hate it when non commies (like the evil banker Kamath) get the awards.

  6. Mysore Boy Says:

    Here’s a key issue:

    How much wealth has Kamath created for our society? How much wealth has Sainath created?

    Kamath’s award is well deserved.

  7. Narayana Says:

    Well Said Bibek. Both Sainath and KV Kamath are antipoles of ideology. Commies. If Sainath is really great he would just ignore this.. KV has to explain how he got the award!! and not Sainath why he did not.

  8. Melange Says:

    Enough of this oh-look-what-a-saint-Sainath-is hatchet job. What has Sainath done that is unique? That the Indian poor are miserable wretches whose plight barely gets a yawn from the well heeled is an old story. Move on folks, nothing to see here.

    I would suggest that Sainath himself is a part of the problem. His obstinate ideological blinkers are in no small part to blame for the plight of India’s poor. If he had an ounce of honesty or integrity he will look for a solution sans any ideology. If he really bleeds so much for the poor, then surely he would look for pragmatic solutions instead of the standard commie lines he and his Chinese newspaper from Chennai spout.

    The Indian left romanticizes poverty. It portrays and savors it’s self styled messianic role as the saviour of the poor whilst perpetuating those very conditions that cause poverty. In short, they need the poverty to exist for them to find any meaning to their miserable lives. Sainath writes better than most of his leftist com padres. Period.

  9. Bibek Chatterjee Says:

    If Sainath is really great he would just ignore this.

    Well Sainath had no problem accepting an award funded by Americans in memory of an anti leftist, the legitimacy conferred by these awards is worth a few ideological compromises. In fact most of the recent Indian awardees of the Ramon Magsaysay award appear to have close links to the NAPM jholas.

    As I have pointed out earlier, once you are conferred an award, you win even if you refuse it, because your acolytes will mention how you bravely rejected the award, he can even do a Sandeep “Naxal” Pandey and accept the honor conferred by the americans but refuse the money.

  10. Anonymous Guy Says:

    Who cares who won what award.

    In our own small ways, lets contribute whatever we can towards our country.

  11. kaangeya Says:

    KV Kamath richly deserves the Padma Bhushan for establishing a professionally bank. He has brought much needed discipline to the financial marketplace and forced both foreign banks (with their legions of highly paid well dressed airheads) and PSU banks (with their legions of ill-mannered lazy pampered employees) sit up and get their act together. Thanks to Kamath the country’s middleclass and its aspiring middleclass has a bank that treats them with respect. If we had a better judiciary that did not take years to dispose cheque bouncing cases (while hearing a 100 frivolous petitions regarding Saranya, M.F. Hussain, and Sania) ICICI could concentrate on disbursing credit and circulating money.

    Sainath deserves the wooden spoon for his poverty poorist porn. Eyes wide shut the doofus fails to accept that it is the very states ruled by his darling “progressive/subaltern/left-democratic/secular” icons that have seen the worst human rights abuses and thuggery. Lallo Prasad Yadav’s Bihar, Sonia/Vilasrao/Pawar’s Maharashtra, Leftist Kerala and West Bengal are all sad basket cases. Sainath crafty disingenuous pamphleteer is yet to write a single story about the food riots in West Bengal, where CPI(M) goons have cornered the foodstocks and left scraps for the people. Sainath’s bleatings sound fake.

    Let’s not get started on chumps like Chomsky and Finkelstein.

  12. V.R.Anil Kumar Says:

    There you go again at NRN. To rub salt into your wounds, the French Government has conferred its highest civilian honour on NRN.

  13. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Super posts by Kaangeya and Melange! Also, I liked this illuminating quote by “A man whom Amartya Sen describes as “one of the world’s greatest experts on famine and hunger.”” that’s hilarious!!

    Lefties in Inda are the F&H (Famine and Hunger) industrialists:)

  14. Yashica Says:

    @ Mysore boy

    I too think Kamath’s honour is well-dserved, but is “wealth creation” a basic requirement for the Padma awards? If it is, Kamath’s honour is a no-brainer. Since it isn’t, we need to judge them by different parameters.

    If only wealth creators were to be recognised, where would that leave writers, teachers, painters, dancers, movie stars, philosophers, journalists, educationists, and others who all create wealth in our society in their own intangible ways? If wealth creation is the only quality that should be recognised, then we need to scrap the Padma awards and stick with the Udyog Shri. But that doesn’t have the same ring of respectability, does it?

    A society builds wealth in many ways. Paper wealth is only one of them. Kamath’s created wealth of one kind. It’s immediate, material and something we can see, hear, touch and feel. But Sainath (and others of his ilk who are slaving away in other fields) create wealth of another kind. To decry either by using wealth creation as a barometer, is to take a very myopic view.

    Imagine if our great yoga or ayurveda masters were in the running with Kamath for a Padma prize. Where would their culture wealth which has flowed through millennia stand against Kamath’s cash wealth?

  15. Mysore Boy Says:


    You write, “A society builds wealth in many ways.” I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, you and I are on the same page — of the same book!

    Wealth is of different types of course. Pierre Bourdieu wrote in 1986 of “economic capital,” “cultural capital,” “social capital,” etc.

    Of course Sainath has created capital, intellectual mostly, but without his passion and his eloquence our capitalism would be much the poorer.

    Folks who posted before me seemed to be grudging Kamath’s award which is what I specifically responded to.

    Thanks for your post!

  16. Aruna Urs Says:

    Mysore Boy
    You have my support. People comfortably forget that a banker is also responsible for people who deposit their life savings from which he lends out. Intelligent people like the author smartly ignore the risk associated with defaulting on deposits.

  17. Alok Says:

    Actually, Communists everywhere, including the Indian variety, have been the farmers’ bugbear.

    Ex: Stalin’s purges, collectivization, Mao’s Great Leap Forward, Nandigram, were all targetted at the peasantry.

    K.V. Kamath’s bank has no doubt used some unsavoury methods in collecting money, but when you consider the fact that the Bank is not lending its own money to borrowers, and is responsible to depositors for the way it spends their money, mitigating circumstances may be pleaded in his favour.

  18. Narayana Says:

    I agree with Alok.

    At least the bank paid taxes to Indian government unlike Rai Bahadur Sahukarru.

  19. gaby Says:

    Muthry Angadi yaake ishtu dina mucche itthu? dayavittu matthe churumurigadaru angadi tegirappa.

  20. Anonymous Guy Says:


    Would love to see you get started off on ‘chumps like Chomsky and Finkelstein’…

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