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Lobbying For Bharat Ratna

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS

NEW DELHI – Interestingly, the latest political move made by Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani has created a ripple of sorts in other political circles too. This refers to Advani’s suggestion that senior BJP leader, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee should be conferred the country’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna. “I would like to propose the name of Atal Bihari Vajpayee for recognition with Bharat Ratna this year. His contribution to our national life is so varied and well-known, and sustained over such a long period, that it bears no reiteration,” Advani said in a letter written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Listing Vajpayee’s achievements, Advani wrote: “Independent India has not seen many political leaders who have commanded so much pan-Indian respect and adoration, and for such a long time as Vajpayee has.” Advani hailed Vajpayee as a successful prime minister, who ran a stable coalition for a full term, besides having been the prime minister three times, with the period of his tenure “next to Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.”

Advani also credited Vajpayee for his fight against authoritarianism and imprisonment during Emergency (1975-77), contribution to normalizing ties with Pakistan, making India a nuclear power (1998) and for his “breathtaking initiatives” like national highways development project.

Expressing regret on their being instances when deserving candidates have not been conferred the honor, Advani wrote: “Sadly, there have also been instances when the award was not given even when such (suitable) illustrious Indians existed in our midst or when their names were suggested for posthumous recognition.”

The award was instituted in 1954 in recognition of highest degrees of national service, including artistic, literary and scientific achievements, as well as public service of the highest order. Among the forty recipients of this award, the last to receive this was classical maestro (shehnai player) Ustad Bismillah Khan in 2001.

It is for the first time that the award is being subject to political lobbying from several quarters, with the first move made by Advani. There is a view that this is apparently Advani’s manner of expressing gratitude to Vajpayee for having supported his selection as the party’s candidate for prime ministerial position. Whatever may have guided Advani to propose Vajpayee’s name, others have not fallen behind in proposing other names, including that of CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist) veteran – Jyoti Basu, BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) founder- late Kanshi Ram and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi (Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam).

Incidentally, even Congress is understood to favor Basu’s name for the award. Signaling this, Congress leader Veerappa Moily openly stated: “The honor should be conferred on Basu.”

The CPI-M, however, seems unmoved by this stand of Congress. When questioned by his party mouthpiece Ganashakti, Basu replied: “I am not in the race” (for Bharat Ratna).

“Communists don’t hanker after state awards,” CPI-M leader Biman Bose said in Kolkata: “We are a party with a difference. We don’t flaunt awards.” “Jyoti Basu is held in high esteem among the party ranks and the people. He’s been with the masses all his life and will continue to lead their struggle till his last. He doesn’t need government awards to glorify himself,” Bose said (January 12).

The Left bloc apparently is also not willing to be hoodwinked into expressing its support for India-United States nuclear deal. Thus, they would rather stay from this game of award-politics.

Categorically voicing his party’s opposition to Basu being conferred the award, CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat said in Kolkata: “We have made our stand clear. We are not in favor of such awards for our leaders” (January 13).

BSP chief, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has, however, joined the race. Demanding that it should be conferred on the party founder Kanshi Ram, she said: “Kanshi Ram should be conferred Bharat Ratna for his invaluable contributions in the uplift of Dalits and oppressed.” “I have come to know through the media that the government of India is considering to confer Bharat Ratna on Vajpayee and Basu. I support it but at the same time it should also be given to Kanshi Ram,” she said at a hurriedly called news conference in Lucknow (January 12).

Not to be left behind in this tussle, DMK has revived its support for Karunanidhi’s candidature. Having made this demand earlier also, DMK sources are hopeful that if Left parties remain adamant against Basu receiving the award, it is “an excellent chance” for their leader to be conferred with the honor.

The latest to join the race is Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) in demanding Bharat Ratna for former Prime Minister Chowdhury Charan Singh. Likewise, supporters of P.V. Narsimha Rao and Jagjivan Ram have raised demand that Bharat Ratna be conferred on them posthumously.

Amid such political jockeying, critics have not refrained from taking a dig at Advani for initiating this race, by proposing Vajpayee’s name. When questioned on efforts being made to pit Basu against Vajpayee, Bose said: “I don’t know about Congress. But, I must say BJP is trying to play politics with the highest civilian reward.”

While Railway Minister Lalu Prasad expressed support for Basu, he questioned Advani’s proposal by saying: “Vajpayee has not retired from politics” (January 12). He claimed that Advani has deliberately taken this move to “make Vajpayee retire from politics.”


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