Sunday, January 20, 2008

And the 'Bharat Ratna' goes to.....

Some people might feel offended by the title since it plays on a frequent delivery line used during inane Bollywood awards, which itself is lifted from Hollywood's Academy awards ceremony, much like everything else, in keeping with the rich Bollywood tradition. Arguably cheapening the award one might say.

Fair enough. But the rhetoric being ratcheted up on the issue, especially following Advani's appeal to the PM, has made this usually dour event into a tearjerker, with all the elements of your usual Bolly melodrama. There's villains galore with axe to grind(Sagarika, Churkha), sycophants of resident lord(Sonia bhakts), escapists who would rather do away with the award(Sanghvi ), with some inkling of jokers( 'Jug'ular), and then the central love tango(LKA , Atal) without which no Bollywood movie can be complete . There's also the completely irrelevant filler element(comrades), making for a complete recipe. Anyway, we digress.

Bharat Ratna, as the name suggests, should be strictly given to 'ratna'(gem) of Bharat. Since it is a public award, the criterion, and process, for finding a suitable candidate should be transparent. A quicklist would tell us that someone who has transformed the lives of significant chunk of Indians, for the better, should be a deserving candidate. Thus candidates can be drawn through all walks of life. If we scan through the list of previous 'Ratnas,' it becomes clear that political insouciance has let frivolous people end up as recipients, reducing the prestige of 'BharatRatna.'

Not surprisingly, most of the awardees are retired politicians. And those who sit in decision too are politicians. There's a disturbing conflict of interest at play here. The award is meant for outstanding citizens, for them to be recognized by their countrymen. Politicians, by virtue of the offices they hold, more particularly the top ones, readily hold this recognition, and in certain cases(Vajpayee) even public adulation. Rewarding them makes the whole process redundant. As a sad reminder of our stagnant, socialist past, one gets the feeling that politicians wish to corner even this little space that should be strictly reserved for private citizens.

Being a developing, populated country, India is addled with enormous problems. Fortunately, we also have a significant number of strivers who work towards easing of problems. A Sridharan who cuts through congestion of our capital; a Tata who makes the dream of family transport a reality; a Seshan who brings government to its righful owners-- the people; a NarayanMurthy or Ambani who brings honest, honorable living to our multitudes; an old HD Shourie who stoically, and with admirable forbearance takes upon the neglected causes of society; such doers, both men and women, deserve public recognition. It is they who have touched the lives of many, in ways that we now take for granted.

Let there be no cash associated with the award. Its monetary worth will be decided by people who will undoubtedly weigh it in gold. But such value will come only if the award goes to meritorious achievers, not meretricious group-thinkers. Avoiding a decision by abolishing the award is a cop out. Quitting simply won't do.

I started with the silverscreen world line, but frankly, I don't know whom the award will go to. I just hope that it will be a private Indian.

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