Padma awards, a cruel farce

The Padma awards, which are announced on the Republic Day, have always been marked by controversy, ever since they were instituted in 1954. The original aim of the awards, which were proposed by then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, was to acknowledge distinguished and exceptional achievements of individuals in various fields. But over time, the awards have become rewards for services rendered to the government, the ruling party or persons in the government or the party. They are often means of patronage and vehicles of favouritism. The awards have also been politicised. There have been charges that they can be secured through lobbying or bought for money. Unfortunately, all this has devalued the awards which were once considered very prestigious and expected to be conferred only on persons who have rendered remarkable service to the nation.

This year also the awards have not been free of controversies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s spiritual guru and yoga instructor have been given the award. This is not the first time leaders’ associates and care-givers have been given the award. First president Rajendra Prasad’s nurse and former prime minister A B Vajpayee’s surgeon got the awards in the past. The UPA government bestowed the award on an NRI hotelier who had many cases against him. Many deserving persons have not received the award or were constrained to reject it when it was awarded too late, as singer S Janaki and sitarist Ustad Vilayat Khan did. Regional favouritism has also been seen in the selection of persons for the award. The South and the North-East have often felt neglected. Recently, there was one year when all South Indian states together got only 20 awards when Delhi alone got 21.

The awards have lost a lot of credibility because of all this. The government should take steps to ensure that the original aims and norms are adhered to when the selection is made. It should be fair and transparent and based on sound principles. In 1996, a committee headed by then vice-president K R Narayanan had actually framed a set of guidelines on the request of the then government. The committee had set stringent qualifications for the award and prescribed some norms. These have not been followed. In the case of the highest award Bharat Ratna, politics has often had a say in the selection. The awards were originally not meant to be posthumous. Now that they are given posthumously too, it is better to draw a line in time for the awards. Persons who died before that date should not be considered for the awards.
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