The shoddy manner in which the government has treated chess maestro Vishwanathan Anand is deplorable. Anand was to be awarded an honourary doctorate by the University of Hyderabad. The decision needed the approval of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD). It was at this point that the issue got mired in red tape. The ministry was apparently unsure whether Anand was indeed an Indian citizen as he has been based in Spain for much of the past six years. Anand is an Indian passport holder. He has repeatedly represented India at international chess tournaments and done the country proud innumerable times. But this was not enough to convince our pigheaded officials. Anand did provide the ministry with a copy of his passport apparently. Isn’t that proof enough of one’s citizenship? The state is rejecting the validity of the very document it has provided as evidence of a person’s citizenship.

Despite his innumerable achievements, Anand is known to be a quiet, dignified person. And in his typical style, he has chosen to downplay the issue. But, this doesn’t diminish the magnitude of the lapse on the part of the government. This is a serious affront to a person who has brought countless laurels to this country. Some have sought to dismiss this as bureaucratic bungling stemming from ignorance. It is much more. These very officials would not hesitate to ingratiate themselves by passing a similar award to a powerful politician, even if he is a crook. No objections are raised when they have to reward themselves or honour one of their own kind.

State awards, honourary doctorates and so on have become a bit of a sad joke in this country with such honours being routinely handed out to political loyalists, people with questionable records and no achievements. In the process, the value of these awards has been diminished over the years. Anand’s stature will not suffer without this doctorate. He is a giant even without this title. There is no doubt about that. But his name would have lent a glow, even enhanced the reputation of the University of Hyderabad, had the doctorate been awarded in a dignified way. Whether or not the doctorate is awarded to him now, the treatment meted out to him will not be easily forgotten by citizens of this country, even if Anand is gracious enough to forgive and forget. It is the government’s prestige that lies in tatters.

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