Is it legitimate that a civilian award such as Bharat Ratna be given retrospectively?  That is for the period for which the award itself is non-existent?

The recent announcement by the Government of India of two awards of Bharat Ratna for the year 2015 generated a good deal of reaction from media as well as general public.  Some saw in the government designating the former Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee and the pre-independent educationist, social reformer and freedom fighter, Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya, a clear political bias.  

bharat ratna india1 Bharat Ratna And the Anachronistic Affliction

Bharat Ratna should be renamed BJP Ratna and Congress Ratna, they suggested, as whichever party is in power favored only distinguished people from that party. And, they added to good measure that extending the honor to the late Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao as well would have restored political non-partisanship. Others spoke against posthumous awards altogether as it served “limited” purpose.  Still others felt that posthumous awards can be given under a different name, such as Bharat Jyothi.  

While there certainly is merit in the demand for ensuring transparent political non-partisanship, a case cannot be made to deny the Nation’s highest honor on the criterion of a person’s death.  After all, it is by recognizing their superlative contributions to Nation’s cause that the country can inspire the younger generation and constitute Nation’s cultural heritage.

There are others who pointed to a bias in favor of politicians to the detriment of others such as those who distinguished themselves in the fields such as scientific inventions, fine-arts, sports, and social life. This certainly is true and must be corrected.  But this year’s award that is announced for Pt. Malaviya raises a crucial question.

madan mohan malviya bhu1 Bharat Ratna And the Anachronistic Affliction

No, this latter is not connected with the awardee’s association with Hindu Mahasabha or founding of Benares Hindu University, thereby raising the specter of polarization being practiced even in the matter of Nation’s highest award.  It rather concerns the issue of anachronism. Is it legitimate that a civilian award such as Bharat Ratna be given retrospectively?  That is for the period for which the award itself is non-existent?  

Look at the paradox. Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya passed away in 1946, that is, even before the country got independence.  And Bharat Ratna was instituted in January 1954!  It is thus inconsistent – and may even be seen as derisory – that a great soul is honored with an award non-existent during his life time!  Instituting a different award to specifically honor the pre-1954 is also futile for it then looks as if a merit list of those great men and women is being prepared.  Besides, the new honor will also accrue all ills that is being said of Bharat Ratna.  

The best homage that we can pay to them is therefore to integrate their thoughts, contributions, and acts as completely as possible, and following a thorough and non-partisan research, within the country’s History.   

In any case a clarification on the anachronistic dimension, just mentioned, is required if only to stem the award’s descent into pre-independence days. 

By: Dr. Codadu Pratap  

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