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Timing of Bharat Ratna

Highlights

The broadest possible spectrum of political opinion has welcomed the twin Ratnas. But reaction in many cases is tinged with political statement

The broadest possible spectrum of political opinion has welcomed the twin Ratnas. But reaction in many cases is tinged with political statement

Despite their being well-deserved, it would seem graceless to sound critical of the Bharat Ratna awarded to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Madan Mohan Malaviya, freedom fighter, Congressman and one of the early protagonists of what is presently called ‘Hindu nationalism.’ But there is more than a touch of politicisation of the country’s highest civilian award. This year’s selection was expected from the Narendra Modi dispensation. Awarding Malaviya was Modi’s polls promise in Varanasi, from where he contested and won. In both cases, a definite political statement has been made – which diminishes somewhat the importance of Bharat Ratna.

It is entirely appropriate to say that the Modi government has only followed the ‘tradition’. In many cases, Bharat Ratna was awarded on political considerations. As Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi awarded herself, in a technical sense, though, after leading the nation to a tumultuous war victory. She had also sought to posthumously make up with K Kamaraj, her mentor-turned-adversary. The choice of M G Ramachandran (MGR) was targeted at Tamil Nadu’s political scene. Is it, then, surprising that Shiv Sena should demand a Ratna for its founder, Balasaheb Thackeray? The unstated part is: why confine it to the Congress and the BJP? This brings in the issue of awarding the dead. Like Malaviya, scores had sacrificed and contributed to the freedom movement.

To be fair, none expected a Ratna or Padma award. Netaji Subhas Bose’s family has rightly and repeatedly rejected the Ratna. Mahatma Gandhi was, of course, above all awards. But, did Tilak, Gokhale, Naoroji or Bhagat Singh contribute any less than Malaviya? Indeed, comparisons and setting benchmarks on their roles would be both impossible and demeaning. Returning to the present, the broadest possible spectrum of political opinion has welcomed the twin Ratnas. But reaction in many cases is tinged with political statement. L K Advani’s emotional praise of Vajpayee also recalls his letter to persuade the Manmohan Singh government to award Vajpayee. Manmohan Singh’s silence on it was vocally political even if Advani’s “ten points” in support of his case were not.

The point to make, for Advani, Modi and the entire “Hindu nationalist” gamut is: was not Malaviya chosen for his conservative politics opposed to the Nehruvian secular ethos that they are now attacking? Would their next award go to RSS founder Hedgewar or his successor Golwalkar? The Congress cannot shake off Malavyia, its four-time president. But it prudently recalled Vajpayee’s memorable ‘rajdharma’ advice given in 2002 during Gujarat’s communal carnage under Modi’s watch. Tweets from two Congressmen, Abhishek Singhvi and Shashi Tharoor, who are professionals not known to take hardcore political line, praising the Ratna choices this year, reflect a relatively liberal ethos that should be welcomed. Finally, if Vajpayee’s Ratna makes Mamata Banerjee to get nostalgic about being a minister in the Vajpayee Government, and reach out to Modi and BJP, her current bête noire, why not?

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