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Time to abolish and discontinue the National Awards

State will never acknowledge those who fight for human rights of the people and challenge its authority

Sunday January 27, 2019 3:03 PM, Vidya Bhushan Rawat

National Awards

Former President Pranab Mukherjee has been awarded Bharat Ratna along with Nana Ji Deshmukh and Bhupen Hazarika. Obviously, many people have heart burn with this as there is a long list of well deserved people who should have been acknowledged by the state. Apart from Bharat Ratna, hundreds of other awards are presented by the government every year as mark of respect, gratitude and acknowledgment to their work.

There is fierce debate now whether Pranab Mukherjee really deserved Bharat Ratna? What is his contribution to India as a whole except the fact that he has been a ‘networker’ across the party line and have never taken strong ideological position. Frankly speaking among his contemporaries both V P Singh and Arjun Singh, the two veteran Congressmen were far superior to Mukherjee in their commitment to social justice and secularism. While V P Singh must get credit for solidly leading a political campaign in favor of the OBCs and resulting his political and social isolation, Arjun Singh must be credited for supporting not merely second Mandal but also the vast changes in the education system. The legacy of Arjun Singh in the Ministry for Human Resource Development, in terms of opening up Central Universities, giving a fair autonomy to UGC, the curriculum in the NCERT text book must be evaluated. The Minister who will take charge of HRD under the new government will have a completely decimated Ministry.

Pranab Mukherjee’s stint as finance minister was absolute and miserable failure. He not only protected but also supported the Ambanis unlike V P Singh who waged a complete war against the corrupt industrial houses thus taking the wrath of Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister. Even as a president of India, Pranab Mukherjee never showed any particular concern for the failure to protect secular values and social justice. So much so that he went to the RSS Headquarter in Nagpur. Mukherjee's only secret is his ‘secred thread’ and being a Brahmin helped him enormously in networking. Both RSS and Congress look for the Brahmins to lead their organisations. Mukherjee’s acceptance in RSS is a clever ploy of the organisation to keep hot seat of India reserved for the Brahmins. Mukherjee's respect in media and a careful image makeover is a media construct and should not be seen beyond that. I have not heard much from him about mob lynching or killing of youths in the universities. He continued to sign papers on dotted lines and in fact was advising Modi from the back.

There is no doubt that these awards have been highly politicised and devalued. There was a time when we used to look for it in such an awe. I don't think that from the beginning the awards were given without merit. But yes, Congress’s subsequent government devalued it. Bestowing awards on Rajiv Gandhi, Sachin Tendulkar, M G Ramachandran and many others actually devalued it. The fact that Congress Party could not provide Bharat Ratna to legends like Baba Saheb Ambedkar, EVR Periyar, Anna Durrai, Captain Jai Pal Singh Munda, Acharya Narendra Dev, Babu Jagjivan Ram, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, Dhyan Chand and many more. K Kamraj was given the award and so did C Rajagopalachari and Dr Radhakrishanan but they never thought of honoring the legend of Periyar. Similarly there are numerous other names given and a huge number of other left. The award became synonymous to Congress thought so it is natural for those who disagree with them, to convert the award in their own.

In this age, I wont call for the Award to be given to Saint Raidas, Kabir, Jyotiba Phule, Savitri Bai Phule and so many others. I can say, they remain much bigger than the award. Even Baba Saheb Ambedkar as Bharat Ratna has been thoroughly degraded today.

Definitely there are numerous other contemporaries who could have been awarded but never got this. Late Karpoori Thakur, Manywar Kanshiram, former Prime Minister V P Singh, former President K R Narayanan, Dilip Kumar, Mohammad Rafi, Naushad and so on.

I have not put names of any author, writer and human rights defender and law practitioner who fight all the odd cases and fight against state apparatus too. State will never acknowledge those who fight for human rights of the people and challenge its authority. In fact, if authors and defenders get the awards, it only means they have only served and protected the oppressive apparatus. If state apparatus respect human rights and people’s autonomy, then they should do it but I am sure they will never remain unbiased.

Giving State awards remain a clever way of state patronage to art and culture. State want to tell us who is great and who is not. Who is worth watching and who is not. Who is worth readable and who is not. I won't subscribe to that. The fact is many people remain much bigger than state acknowledgement. Periyar never featured here but he is highly respected by people. Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar remained out of the state apparatus for long and was sought to be forgotten by the state but it was the people who kept his spirit high. Even the highest award to Bharat Ratna and his portrait at the Parliament House was put by the person who has been out of the state memory, Shri V P Singh, when he honored Dr Ambedkar and former South African legend Nelson Mandela together. What a great combination it was which restored the value of Bharat Ratna but since then it is absolutely politicised and degraded.

When Morarji Desai became Prime Minister of India in 1977, the first thing he scrapped was the State patronage and Awards. I think that was a great decision but the Congress brought it back and now BJP wants to patronise the Sanghis through these awards. I think the time has come that these awards be scrapped again and instead make autonomous body to refer these awards and help the artists, authors who are in need. State patronage actually kills art, culture, literature, movements which must remind the powerful that the art is not for their propaganda but for people’s power. Since the awards have been made according to political benefits of the ruling party, it is time the awards are completely abolished and instead government provide necessary protection to dissent in art, culture, literature, politics and movements. That alone would be the greatest service to India and its democracy.

[Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com twitter @freetohumanity Email: vbrawat@gmail.com.]

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