Awarding the Bharat Ratna

Published: December 28, 2014
The writer is the editor and translator of Why I write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto, published by Westland, 2014. His book, India, Low Trust Society, will be published by Random House

The writer is the editor and translator of Why I write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto, published by Westland, 2014. His book, India, Low Trust Society, will be published by Random House

Any award that is given to both Nelson Mandela and Sachin Tendulkar, and to both Jawaharlal Nehru and Gulzarilal Nanda cannot be taken very seriously. The Bharat Ratna is India’s highest civilian award, but most of its awardees (25 out of 45) are politicians. It is seen as a lifetime achievement award in politics and going down the list of awardees, this becomes particularly clear.
Those in power in our parts usually honour themselves, and the Bharat Ratna is no exception. Rajiv Gandhi had no great achievements to his name but was given the honour, perhaps, as a family thing, because his mother Indira Gandhi was also given one. Indians tend to keep complaining about Mahatma Gandhi not being given the peace Nobel but give little thought to why he is not given the Bharat Ratna. Given the kind of people it has been pressed on, perhaps this is just as well.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the latest awardee, himself took these things lightly and gave away the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest award, to a man, Dr Chittaranjan Ranawat, for fixing his knees. As a nation, I would say we do not take awards seriously. This sentiment extends to the Indian armed forces. In 1999, the army awarded its highest honour, the Param Vir Chakra, posthumously to 19-year-old Yogendra Yadav. Then it turned out that Havildar Yadav was not dead but in hospital recovering from the bullet wounds the award had been given for.

Vajpayee is a good man who often meant well, and the most likeable man in a party which had many unlikeable people. I have no issue with him being given the award, particularly, as I said, given the sort of politicians who have been given it before him. However, I would like to take a look at a few disparate things which may be overlooked when he is being thus feted for a life in politics. Any biography of Vajpayee’s written a few decades from now (though Indians are not very good at the art of biography), must begin with a single cruel fact. Vajpayee and his partner, L K Advani, cynically picked up an issue that made their party popular but cost the lives of 3,000 Indians. The notion that Vajpayee was the good cop to Advani’s bad cop (dove and hawk) is entirely bogus, and demonstrated by the fact that Advani had to step back when at the threshold of power.

The second thing is that the only year in recent decades when India had net negative foreign investment (meaning that funds actually left India) was 1998-1999. This was because of Vajpayee’s adventure at Pokhran, which cost India growth, jobs and extended poverty for many while given no strategic benefit (how is India safer today than it was in 1997?). Vajpayee should have known the damage, because the data linking uncertainty and violence and growth is unchallengeable. Tourism in India is low growth and suffers episodic phases of negative growth when our major parties, the Congress and the BJP get up to mischief. The years of negative growth are: 1984 (-8.5 per cent), 1990 and 1991 (-1.7 per cent each) and 1993 (5.5 per cent), 1998 (-0.7 per cent), 2002 (-6 per cent). These are the years of the Delhi riots, the Babri movement and the subsequent riots, Pokhran and then the Gujarat riots. The last aspect of Vajpayee that goes more or less unnoticed is his poetry. Here is a sample: Prithvi par Manushya hi aisa prani hai/ Jo bhid main akela, aur/ Akele main bhid se ghira anubhav karta hai (On earth, among the living/ Only a human being Feels alone in a crowd, and/Besieged by crowds when alone).

Kya khoya, kya paya jag main/Milte aur bichadte mug main/Mujhe kisi se nahin shikayat/Yadyapi chala gaya pag-pag main/Ek dhrishti beeti par dalein, yaadon ki potli tatolain (What have I lost or gained on earth?/In this journey of meeting and separation I’ve known deception at every step/But I have no grievance, no complaints/As I appraise the past, sift through memories). (Translations by Pavan K Varma.)

Perhaps, if you said it with Atalji‘s impassioned delivery, it might become better, but I doubt it. I was interviewed by The Times of India‘s Crest edition on the verse of Vajpayee and Narendra Modi and rather than repeat myself I quote the report: “Patel says that neither Modi nor Vajpayee are particularly skilled poets. ‘They both lack in their observation of the natural world. The poems are basic and have little layering. Modi’s poems are slightly better than Vajpayee’s because he undertakes some abstract thinking. Vajpayee’s verse is unimaginably literal and dull’.” I still think this is true.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Anjaan
    Dec 28, 2014 - 1:00AM

    Nehru conferred Bharat Ratna on himself, so did Indira … then came Rajiv Gandhi … it has been reduced to a big joke … wonder how 1.3 billion people can take this joke on them so casually … !!


  • javed Iqbal
    Dec 28, 2014 - 2:34AM

    A sane voice at least from India . Vajpayee’s adventure at Pokhran, not only hampered India growth, jobs and extended poverty but also identical effect or more degree to Pakistani economy. That was an immoral and shrewd plan by Vajpayee and his clique that in response of their nuclear explosion Pakistan would reply with same conduct and then have to face sanctions. Subsequently fragile economy of Pakistan would be collapsed. BJP leadership might be succeeded in their designs/motives at that time. But history will never forgive and forget Mr. Vajpayee for Pokhran episode which enhanced hatred between two nations and paved the way towards extending poverty across the Sub Continent.


  • Dec 28, 2014 - 2:42AM

    There is a famous Karmic saying,…and it applies to hindustan in quadruplicate
    “Karma has no menu, you get served what you deserve”


  • Dec 28, 2014 - 3:01AM

    Here is a poem for India,…
    Even puppies get run over, by drivers with no licenses
    Even they must get licenses, licenses, licenses, licenses.
    Even Amit,..even Modi, even Advani, even Vajpayee.
    Must read, pass test, get licenses, licenses, licenses.


  • C. Nandkishore
    Dec 28, 2014 - 6:02AM

    Be dildar, Mr. Patel, be dildar. Lets start with Chainkya and Alexander and till Godse gets one.


  • Dec 28, 2014 - 6:08AM

    The author made some excellent points. In his article.
    Bharat Dratna Varatna,…Ratna. Nobody really cares about these
    thug politicians giving each other these medals. They are bronze?
    Brass? Coated?….cheap baubles.


  • Prakash
    Dec 28, 2014 - 10:46AM

    You are right Aakar. The way politicians have been conferring this award on themselves, we may as well start calling it the Filmfare Award for Best Role in Politics.


  • abhi
    Dec 28, 2014 - 4:04PM

    I was trying to look for some introduction of Aakar Patel but couldn’t find any. Can some one please provide a link?


  • Dec 28, 2014 - 6:56PM

    Where to begin, where to start, the author has laid bare the dark black
    soul of India. With the likes of Vajpayee, Advani, Modi….the prophets of
    Hindutva Hegemony. A group of dark wizened old men in dhotis gather,
    on a stage, next to a cradle of holy fire. chant some incantations, formulas
    and pin a medal? statuette? on the most vociferous, fire breathing, dragon
    dancing devotee of Hindutva. There you have it. The ceremony is akin to the
    Oscars of the Dhoti Politics Of Hindustan’s. Afterwards, there is a vegetarian
    banquet of dosas.


  • Dec 28, 2014 - 7:42PM

    If you pay attention and listen carefully, you will hear
    the Indian masses, chanting weakly . :-
    Give us a dhoti, give us a boti, give us a roti.
    Give us a toilet give us a toilet give us a toilet.
    We may want a Nehru, a Gandhi, a Rahul an Indira
    Give us a Modi give us a Modi give us a Modi.


  • Dec 28, 2014 - 9:41PM

    Modi is an afflicted man His passions and
    evils are rooted in the 3 poisons :-
    Greed, Anger and Delusions.


  • Dec 28, 2014 - 10:12PM

    Another sonnet for our secular neighbors to the east.
    We are Hindus we are crude, we are Sikhs with a bruise.
    We are Jains we are vain, we are Marathi with a sharmathi
    Gives us a kothi with a dhoti, we will take a Modi with a roti.


  • politically incorrect
    Dec 28, 2014 - 10:48PM

    Congress’s record in awarding Bharat Ratna is shameful. No doubt about it. But giving a Bharat Ratna to your personal physician is as farcical as it gets.


  • the eddy
    Dec 29, 2014 - 8:43AM

    @javed Iqbal:
    Why someone giving you pleasure , is the only sane mind


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