After four years India has chosen to award two of its jewels with the Bharat Ratna. CNR Rao and Sachin Tendulkar are only the fourth and fifth Bharat Ratnas to be conferred in the current millennium.
Awards of this nature, which bestow a sort of official immortality, can be knotty. When done well they generate glee. When done shoddily they generate anger.
Rao and Tendulkar are choices that gladden. The timing is right as well and that makes for nimble government work. But there are more greats who need to be honoured thus.
Not because they need it but because it is important for India to express gratitude and show that it knows how to honour its architects.
Here are 15 people that need to be conferred with Bharat Ratnas right away. There are more but I am keeping it to 15 so it is realistic and not merely a wish list. For the purposes of the Bharat Ratna, which ought to be seen as one of the world’s credible recognitions, the cutoff point is 15 August 1947 the birth date of modern India. It would take about a decade to clear this list.
1) Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. There’s no reason to keep him out of this unless he is deemed god. But he was human and the biggest architect of independent India.
Many stalwarts around him have already been conferred the Bharat Ratna. Why not Gandhi? Any future list ought to begin with his name.
2) Vikram Sarabhai. The father of India’s space programme. Now that we have a mission to Mars that has worked superbly so far, we could atone for not honouring Sarabhai.
You can imagine the kind of conversations he would have had with the polity to convince them about India’s presence in space. He saved us from space illiteracy.
3) MS Swaminathan. The doyen of India’s Green Revolution. We might have been struggling for food if he had not altered the nature of our farming.
There are still a few Indian citizens who scramble to find food to eat but that is not Swaminathan’s fault. He virtually saved us from hunger.
4) Jyoti Basu. A stalwart of pro-people governance who was admired across the polity. As long as he was in charge, New Delhi did not fret about West Bengal.
The secular and scientific temperament in the state and its people is largely the result of his stewardship of over two decades. Plus, he set a great example of giving away personal wealth for public good.
5) Mahadevi Varma. Poetess, writer, freedom fighter, women’s activist, friend of animals and a towering moral presence.
Her work shaped the thoughts and personalities of hundreds of schoolchildren who learned how to be civil and care for animals and people. Is one of the all-time greats of Hindi literature.
6) Dhyan Chand. Possibly the greatest field hockey player of all time in the world. They say the surname Chand came when he started to practice under moonlight when other Army jawans would sleep. No hockey player since has scored goals like he did.
7) Dilip Kumar. One of the two finest role models in Hindi cinema acting and possibly the first method actor in film anywhere. An extraordinary story of a fruit seller’s son who travelled from Pakistan to become India’s greatest actor.
8) PT Usha. No one took Indian women track and field athletes seriously before her. She has 101 international medals, like Tendulkar’s 100 international centuries. She hasn’t rested after she stopped competing; she trains athletes in Kerala although she has had difficulty with funds.
9) Milkha Singh. Still the best male athlete India has ever had. His career ensured that India was treated with respect for a while in the Olympics. A tireless champion of sport and a role model for the young of India even today.
10) Biju Patnaik. A hero of Odisha who already has the highest civilian award from Indonesia because of his stellar role in helping Indonesia gain freedom from Japan. They still tell stories of his daring flights from then. He was two-time chief minister of Odisha and his son Naveen Patnaik is now in the post.
11) Mohammed Rafi. The voice of India. A man who thought money was best given away. He was a friend of the needy and a genius at playback singing. There was nothing he couldn’t do and his songs may well last another five hundred years.
12) EMS Namboodiripad. He was among the first to implement land and education reforms in south India, which changed the character of Kerala. The state is still seen as an example of good governance with high social progress. He is also a role model for integrity in public life; he gave away all his wealth to the people.
13) Homi J Bhabha. The father of India’s nuclear defence programme. He added muscle to India’s feeble military strength. His work has resulted in two Indian nuclear missile tests so far. He died in an air crash that is believed to have been engineered to stall India’s nuclear progress.
14) MF Husain. India’s best-known modern painter who redefined art in the country and added scale and swagger to the canvas. He charted his own path and expanded the boundaries of what was until then classical and traditional art.
15) Balraj Sahni. Along with Dilip Kumar, he is one of the two finest role models in Hindi cinema actors. He has some of the best roles in Indian films and his pro-people politics drove him to take a stand on issues of the day. His public speeches usually became classics, like many of his films.
These are 15 jewels of India who we need to honour formally although all of them are beyond official awards. And there is the curious case of Subhas Chandra Bose. The Bharat Ratna conferred on him was withdrawn in 1992 because the awarding committee couldn’t prove he was dead.
Bose was conferred the award posthumously and a PIL was filed on it in the apex court. There was no evidence of his death and so the award was withdrawn. Perhaps the Supreme Court could now take suo motu notice and restore the
Bharat Ratna to Bose.
Bharat Ratna basics
- Is the highest civilian award of India; was instituted in 1954
- Anyone without distinction of race, occupation, position or gender is eligible
- Is awarded in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavour
- Recommendations are made by the Prime Minister to the President
- No formal recommendations are necessary
- A maximum of three awards can be given a year
- A recipient receives a sanad (certificate) signed by the president and a medallion shaped like a peepal leaf
- There’s no money component
- The award cannot be used as a prefix or suffix to a recipient's name
- If an award winner wishes to, they may say ‘Awarded Bharat Ratna by the President’ or ‘Recipient of Bharat Ratna Award’ in their CV, letterhead or visiting card, etc.
- Including Rao and Tendulkar, 43 people have been honoured so far
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Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi. His most recent journalism assignment was as executive editor with The Financial World, New Delhi, and tehelka.com.
He was a guest on Season 1 of the popular Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by Aamir Khan.
Vijay blogs here and may be cont acted at firstname.lastname@example.org.