The Government of India and various cultural and educational organisations like the Sahitya Academy since 1950s must have conferred several hundreds of awards from Padmashri to Padma Vibhushan, to various individuals. Men and women in service of the nation, like armed forces, Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and those in Indian Foreign Service (IFS) are given awards year after year for their meritorious service. Pension is given to freedom fighters along with a Taamrapatra. The Government also gives awards for best films in various Indian languages. Similar awards are also conferred by the state governments, like Best Teacher awards at different levels like Primary, High School and University. States too have film awards. Karnataka state, created after the states reorganisation, for instance, gives away Rajyotsava awards every year. The list of awards given here by either the Federal government or the state governments is not exhaustive. But these awards are given despite a constitutional provision – Article 18, against such titles. Our politicians accept awards from foreign governments and organisations, which is also prohibited under the Constitution.
Purpose behind the awards
Why are these awards given then? Governments as an organised body whether alien or native, dictatorial or democratic obviously to survive in power, need public support. India being a vibrant and highly pluralistic democracy needs such support more than any other country. Equally true is human craving for recognition for individual work. Even saints need and seek such recognition! Life begins for a child with recognition. I have seen how much a child (and the parents) are elated even in preschool when the child is given an award. The crux of the issue is: You do not have any mechanical method to select, but go by subjective criteria. During the 65 years since the Indian Republic came into being, the BJP has been in power only for seven years! For the remaining 58 years, the nation has been ruled by the left of centre parties like the Congress and those who came out from it and became different kinds of left leaning parties – in short, left of the centre forces! The governments formed by these political parties, again mainly the Congress had selected awardees because they served the government of the day well, and awardees were the people close to it. Thus, compared to the team supporting left leaning forces, the BJP promoted team of awardees can be easily defeated by sheer voice vote of the left of the centre awardees!
The awards are given absolutely on the basis of the evaluation of gain to party in power – even if there is some consideration given to the achievement of the awardees, main determining consideration is apna admi. Corruption plays a huge role too. I know for sure that awards given to Primary and Secondary school teachers are rigged, with part of the prize money going back to the politician involved. Another consideration is the need to include religious minority representatives. The same principle works in determining nominees for Karnataka Rajyotsava awards.
Let me take one example. In the 1980s, the then Vice Chancellor of Bombay University brought with her on the Republic Day, a college Principal who was introduced as the higher education winner of the Best Teacher Award. But a few lines spoken by the teacher on that day after the flag hoisting, left me and others present wondering: In what sense was he the best teacher?
If the award giving on the part of the government has a strong political motive, there is also in return a reciprocal allegiance on the part of those recipients who are now returning them to the present government. Then what are the motives on the part of those eminent men who now return their coveted awards to a government which did not give them those awards to begin with? One fact should be ruled out right in the beginning: That they neither coveted it nor they ever wanted it! If that is so, they would not have accepted them to begin with! They do not subscribe to the constitutional high principle of asking citizens not to seek or accept titles.
Then it means we need to go a little deeper into the likely causes. First point to ponder is that they share the grief experienced by the Congress Party bigwigs at the loss of power that naturally gave them tremendous power over patronage. That the Congress Party is not able to adjust and accept the reality of loss of power can be well proved. The last 14 months’ political behaviour of the party of opposing legislations favoured by it while in power, or obstructing every move in the Rajya Sabha is a sign of that. It is obvious that these award returnees wish to lighten the pain of their patron-saints by returning the gain they had enjoyed all these years after they received the award. Ms. Nayantara Sehgal who was the first to return the award created a psychological impact on others who benefited from the Congress/Left rule. She enhanced her credibility by stating that she opposed the imposition of National Emergency by Mrs. Indira Gandhi. But it is one thing to be critical of Mrs. Gandhi when power was within the Nehru-Gandhi family, and quite another thing to return the award to discredit opponents of that family.
Of course, to make her action laudable by the ordinary people, who are always a majority, she offered growing intolerance as the reason for her act. Others followed her to toe the line of ‘return of award to protest against intolerance!’ The only another country comparable to India in plurality of religion, ethnicity, language, regionalism and caste system, is the US. However, in the US there is almost a daily instance of public expression of intolerance, like an attack on a Sikhs or a Muslim.
India however has those diversities thrice more than that of the US, but with fewer incidents. Those who accuse Indians of being intolerant need to read the statement made by Ted Cruz, the second front-runner in the Republican Party nominations for next year’s US Presidential elections. He appreciated the Indian tolerance of Muslims, which has made them moderate in India!