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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 49, November 23, 2013

On the Question of Bharat Ratna

Monday 25 November 2013

by Bishwajit Sen

Who should be considered the gem of India? A cricketeer, a leader or a littérateur? This is the latest controversy that has been blowing since Sachin Tendulkar got this coveted award on retirement from Indian cricket. Most vociferous against the GOI decision are the leaders of Bharatiya Janata Party. Bereft of an issue (since the country did not explode into a spree of communal riots on the aftermath of the Patna Bomb explosions at Narendra Modi’s meeting venue) they have got hold of this one. According to them, India’s ex-Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee has been most ignominiously bypassed. While agreeing that Sri Vajpayee was a gentleman par excellence, and also to a great extent, a man of reason, the BJP should have had the common sense to understand that their stand is annoying the masses. Sachin Tendulkar has a great popularity amongst the people and his popularity cuts across sections of the populace. If the BJP conducts a survey amongst its own ranks, they would find votaries of Sachin there too, and in consistent proportion. For sport is sport and except Hitler, who used Olympics to the advantage of Nazism in the most grotesque fashion, nobody lacked sanity to indulge in such a perfidy. Only now, the BJP is demonstrating a similar insanity. The difference with Hitler is that they are advocating a lost cause, whereas Hitler repesented a cause which was victorious, though temporarily.

Atal Behari Vajpayee was never a sportsman, so Sachin’s receiving the award should not be a cause of heartburn amongst his partymen. Sachin is not a political figure and therefore he can never aspire to be the Prime Minister of India. Besides the Bharat Ratna is not the ultimate recognition of human excellence. There are other yardsticks too, so it is foolish to set Vajpayee against Sachin on the question of the Bharat Ratna. It lowers the prestige of Vajpayee also, for Vajpayee has other achievements to his credit which a sportstar can never dream of achieving (like the victory in Kargil).

But getting isolated is a feeling, which you can only advice a person or organisation to get rid of. You cannot crawl into their skin to perform the act yourself. It comes with ageing. And the BJP is ageing. It has lost its relevance in national politics. With only the card of “nationalism” at its disposal (which is a veiled communal card), defeat is staring at its face. That is why it is bent upon turning non-issues into issues.

Nitish Kumar is another person who has jumped into the fray in a most uncalled for fashion. Socialists (some of them at least) have a habit of shouting “Me too! Me too!!” when two sides are playing a game. He feels that Lohia and Karpuri Thakur would have been the best recipients of this award. He forgot quite conveniently to mention the name of Acharya Narendra Dev, who helped convert a large number of youngmen to socialistic views. Acharya Narendra Dev had a calm and intellectual presence in the socialist movement. While he was heading the Kashi Vidyapeeth, it became a centre of radical thinking. Many of its alumnis were later-day Socialist and Communist leaders. The legendary CPI MP of Patna, Ramavtar Shastri, is an example. Several times MP from the Patna parliamentary constituency, he demonstrated practically what a people’s politician should be.

Perhaps I, as a common citizen of India, should forward two names for consideration too. The first name being put forward for consideration is that of S.A. Dange, the erstwhile Chairman of the CPI and a legendary leader of the Indian working class. His leadership of Girni Kamgar Union (Mumbai) is a history unto itself. Besides that, he played a crucial role while India was under Chinese attack and the precursors of the BJP were baying for Jawaharlal Nehru’s blood. Dange’s intervention led to the CPSU coming to forefront which made the Chinese troops with-draw from Indian soil in an unexplained fashion.

The second name of course, is that of E.M.S. Namboodiripad. Without indulging in theatrics, as Lohia did on the question of caste, he quietly solved the same in Kerala. In fact, he turned the Communist Party into a weapon for both the oppressed classes and castes. We can hardly think of such a smooth operation in the Hindi heartland, but EMS did this many years ago when “Mandal” was nowhere on the horizon.

In the end I should perhaps say a few words about Karpuri Thakur. Being a person of exemplary modesty, I doubt whether he would have accepted the Bharat Ratna at all had it been offered to him during his lifetime. He had humble origins, but unlike many persons of similar origins, he was acutely conscious of his own limitations. This characteristic of his could be imbibed neither by Laloo Prasad, nor by Nitish Kumar.

The author, who is close to the communist movement, is a literary figure based in Patna.

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