Imagine becoming the first person to climb Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Imagine having your name in every General Knowledge book in the world for the last 60 years.
Imagine doing such a feat that Queen Elizabeth II was itching to award you and since you were not eligible, conferred with the governments of Nepal and India and gave you a George Medal and Coronation medal anyway.
Tenzing Norgay came first in everything except the Government of India list. No Bharat Ratna for you my dear. No Padma Vibhushan either. Just content yourself with a Padma Bhushan, which more than 1000 other Indians have received!
Greatest hockey player ever: Third highest civilian award.
Three Olympic Golds. Beating USA 24-1 after scoring 8 goals in the final and forcing that country to stop playing hockey for decades. Bettering that by beating Germany 8-1 in the final scoring 3 goals in front of the mighty Adolf Hitler himself.
Imagine scoring hundreds and hundreds of goals and people breaking your hockey stick since they thought you cheated and making you play with an umbrella stick and still getting the same results! Imagine being the undisputed hockey all-time great!
Again Mr Dhyan Chand: No first prize for you and no second prize either. Just content yourself with a Padma Bhushan.
India’s greatest swimmer: Third highest civilian award.
Imagine being the first Indian to cross the English Channel, the first Asian to cross the Strait of Gibraltar and becoming the first person in the world to cross the Dardanelles. Imagine crossing six water bodies in a single year.
Imagine battling sharks and hypothermia over hundreds of kilometres of seas and oceans. Imagine dying a penniless and broke man. You guessed it right a Padma Bhushan is enough, thank you.
2 World Amateur Billiards Championships: Fourth highest civilian award.
Imagine becoming the first Indian in the world to win an amateur billiards world title and repeating the feat. Imagine getting a Padma Shri for that feat. Only when the person in question kicked up a storm did the government decide to upgrade it to Padma Bhushan. We feel for you Michael Ferreira!
5 World boxing titles: Third highest civilian award.
Imagine getting a whopping 5 World Amateur Boxing Championship Gold Medals. Time was when we yearned for one solitary world championship! Imagine not having woman’s boxing in the Olympics in your entire prime of career. For the government a Padma Shri was enough for the iron lady that was Mary Kom.
She scrapped her way past her prime for an Olympic Bronze Medal and only after a lot of pushing by her fans and sports writers did she get the Padma Bhushan.
14 doubles and mixed doubles Grand Slams: Fourth highest civilian award.
Leander Paes started playing at the international level in 1991 and became World No. 1 in the junior tennis ranking way back in 1992. He won the Olympics Bronze Medal in 1996. Since then he has he has won 8 doubles Grand Slams and 6 in mixed doubles. In all he has 53 doubles titles.
Well in this case he’s not even good enough for a mandatory Padma Bhushan. Please Paes, be content with a Padma Shri like 2500+ others!
5 World Championship Chess titles: Second highest civilian award.
Viswanathan Anand became International Master at 15, national champion at 16 and subsequently became India’s first Grand Master. He broke the stranglehold of the Russians and won the World title in 2000. While that was a “split” title, many critics didn’t think it that an achievement.
In 2007, at the age of 37, he was written off by many and he stormed back to take four back to back world titles. He broke the “Padma Bhushan” jinx and became the first every sportsperson to get the Padma Vibhushan.
Surely a Bharat Ratna for this Prithvi Ratna would have been more apt.
Sachin Tendulkar: Highest civilian award.
There are only 8 Test playing countries out of which only 5 have won the ODI World Club, that small a club is cricket. India won the 1983 World Cup under Kapil Dev’s captaincy and Mohinder Amarnath was the man of the match in both the semi-final and final.
We won the mini World Cup under Sunil Gavaskar’s captaincy and Ravi Shastri was the champion of champions. We won the ICC Champions Trophy under Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy and Virender Sehwag was the star.
We won the 2007 T20 WC, 2011 ODI WC and 2013 ICC Champions Trophy under MS Dhoni’s captaincy.
In Tests, Sunil Gavaskar and Rahul Dravid probably won us more matches.
One didn’t know that the Bharat Ratna was basically awarded purely on the basis of popularity!
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.