How to win the next Bharat Ratna

So, now that the Bharat Ratna has been awarded to the youngest winner so far, Sachin Tendulkar, we make an attempt here to deconstruct this award by analysing the backgrounds of the 43 awardees so far. For some, this might prove to be a great peek into the post-independence history of India – a humbling journey indeed! For some others, this list may possibly help to plan your lives accordingly!!

So of the 43 awardees, following is the break-up of the seven “streams” to which they belong :

  • Presidents/Governor General :         6 (Rajendra Prasad, S Radhakrishnan, VV Giri, Zakir Husain, Abdul Kalam, C Rajagopalachari)
  • Prime Ministers :                                      6 (Pt Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Gulzarilal Nanda, Morarji Desai)
  • Freedom fighter-turned politicians : 12
    • Sardar Patel,
    • Maulana Azad,
    • Gopinath Bordoloi – Congress Assam CM,
    • Dr BC Roy – Congress West Bengal CM,
    • K Kamaraj – Congress Tamilnadu CM,
    • Govind Ballabh Pant – Congress UP CM)
    • Jayaprakash Narayan – socialist opposing Indira Gandhi,
    • C Subramaniam – Congress Union Minister, Maharashtra Governor,
    • Purushottam Das Tandon – Lok Sabha & Rajya Sabha MP, Speaker of UP Assembly,
    • Aruna Asaf Ali – socialist who later on joined Congress,
    • Bhagwan Das – later founder of Kashi Vidyapeeth,
    • Badshah Khan (had opposed formation of Pakistan, kept on fighting for Pashtuns till 1988).
  • Social Reformers :                                 4 (Mother Teresa, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Maharshi Dhonduba Keshav Karve, and to some extent, Nelson Mandela)
  • Artists :                                                    6 (Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan, Subbulakshmi, Bhimsen Joshi, Lata Mangeshkar, Satyajit Ray)
  • Politicians :                                             2 (MGR, BR Ambedkar)
  • Others – Scientists, Economists, Engineers, Academician/author, Sportspersons, Businesspersons : 7 (CV Raman, CNR Rao, Amartya Sen, M Visvesvaraya – famous engineer who built the temples of modern India – dams and roads, Dr PV Kane – VC of Bombay University, Sachhin…Sachhin, JRD Tata).

On closer introspection of the List above, some trends emerge :

  1. The first four Presidents were awarded Bharat Ratna and none of the 4-5 after them. So, looks like the office of the President has lost some of its respect after the first 25 years after independence. Also, two of the first four Presidents (Prasad and Giri) were intense freedom fighters too. The other two were super-academics. In later years, politicians who have been Ministers of the ruling party have been rewarded with the Presidency post, and hence, possibly do not deserve the Bharat Ratna. Why Abdul Kalam then ? Well, see the year of Bharat Ratna – 1997, much before he became President. Yes, he could have been included in the Scientist category above.
  2. Six of the first seven Prime Ministers have been awarded the Bharat Ratna, two of them posthumously. The rest of the clan – Charan Singh, VP Singh, Chandrashekhar, PV Narsimha Rao, AB Vajpayee, Deve Gowda, IK Gujral and Dr MMS possibly couldn’t contribute to the nation to the same extent as the first six. Once I re-read this statement of mine, then I feel that Vajpayee and Dr MMS possibly deserve to be on the awardee list. Both of them were responsible for some path-changing moves for the nation during their tenures, and they lasted their terms as well. Shastri served for 2-3 years but he died while in office. Also, his freedom-fighter credentials are impeccable. GL Nanda, by that measure was possibly not such a worthy contender, though he had fought for freedom and later on also became the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission.
  3. Looks like the “easiest” way to have got a Bharat Ratna was to have given your blood for the country’s freedom struggle. There are 12 freedom fighters turned politicians who got the Bharat Ratna award. Of course, there’s a bit of a catch- 8 of these 12 were Congress Ministers, 4 being the first Chief Ministers of states (UP, Tamilnadu, West Bengal, Assam). Jayaprakash Narayan was the only person in this category who opposed the Congress later on. However, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1999 during BJP-NDA regime. Hence, looks like that if you were a freedom fighter, but did not toe the Congress line after freedom, it would have been tough to become a Bharat Ratna. Finally, speaking about freedom fighters who lived beyond independence, we are missing names like Ram Manohar Lohia (but then, he opposed Congress after independence), Sarojini Naidu (passed away early on, in 1949), Capt Lakshmi Sahgal, Sheikh Abdullah.
  4. Only three “Indian” social reformers made the cut, which could change in the coming years as the dearth of true noble politician-leaders hits hard, and as the leadership space gets filled increasingly by non-governmental social reformers (called activists nowadays). Aruna Roy, Medha Patkar, Ela Bhatt, Arvind Kejriwal could be on the list of contenders through this route. In the past, we seem to have missed some wonderful people like Baba Amte and Sundarlal Bahuguna.
  5. Moving to artists, out of the six awardees, four were masters of classical music – Hindustani or Carnatic. Some people who possibly missed coming through this route were – Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, DV Paluskar, Kumar Gandharva and a decent list of other classical music exponents. From films, some great awardees could have been Mohd Rafi for his soulful singing and Raj Kapoor for the wonderful cinema he made. There is a reason however for the classical music maestros having missed making it to the List – five of the six awards given through this category have been given in the post 1998 era. That could coincide with the evolving Civilisation Quotient of a country which was outgrowing its post-independence era, and moving to a stage where appreciation of arts, sports and business would progressively increase. Some others who could still come through this route in the future are other living maestros of classical music –Balamuralikrishna, Ustaads Amjad Ali Khan, Zakir Hussain, Pandits Shivkumar Sharma, Hariprasad Chaurasia. As for films, Amitabh Bachchan is a sure-shot candidate for the Bharat Ratna along with possibly Rajinikanth (we may change the name of the award to Bharat Rajini after this).
  6. Ambedkar and MGR have been categorised into the pure politician category because they weren’t really involved in the freedom struggle. Both however lie in cusps with other categories, MGR through films and Babasaheb through social reform – one of the strongest! Looks like the post-independence quintessential politician is not a category at all for the award. In the current mood of cynicism, some people may thank their stars for this thought. However, there could be a few state chief ministers who might not become PMs and hence may not be considered for this reason. And that may be unfair. Nitish Kumar, Navin Patnaik, Shivraj Chauhan and Raman Singh might be candidates for the same, based on the millions of people pulled out of poverty in their states, possibly resulting because of their focused leadership. I am skipping Narendra Modi and Sheila Dikshit here because of them leading already rich states. Similarly, national leaders like Jyoti Basu and Kanshi Ram could have been considered and LK Advani should be considered even now.
  7. That brings us to the “Others” category which is an eclectic and heady mix of some juicy categories like businesspersons, sportspersons, economists, educationists, scientists, engineers, doctors and academicians. I believe this category should see an explosion in coming years with so many people doing great work in many of these. Names that readily come to mind of people who could have been considered in the past were Aditya Birla, Dhirubhai Ambani, V Kurien (White revolution), Dhyan Chand, Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai, Dr Venkataswamy (Aravind Eye Hospital). Some that could still be considered are Ratan Tata, NR Narayanamurthy, Azeem Premji, Deepak Parekh, MS Swaminathan (Green revolution), Vishwanathan Anand, E Sridharan, Dr Devi Shetty (Narayana Hrudayalaya), Jagdish Bhagwati, VS Naipaul.

Outlook for the next 50 Bharat Ratnas : With India having glided successfully into our post-independence phase of history, I am seeing the following mix of categories from where the next 50 Bharat Ratnas should emerge :

  • Prime Ministers : 2-3 (sincerely praying for a few great leaders to come from here – for the sake of the nation)
  • Presidents : Zero
  • Politicians making difference to lives of millions of people : 7-8 (should be state CMs, and given the increasing regional play of politics, there could be more. Hoping that there could be some National Education Minister, Rural Development Minister, HRD Minister who would also do something memorable at some point of time)
  • Social Activists : 8-10 (have to plug the gap created by the demise of freedom fighter-turned politicians)
  • Artists, sportspersons : 8-10
  • Businesspersons, engineers, lawyers, doctors, architects : 10-12 (need some serious nation builders)
  • Scientists and economists : 5-6 (if India has to move into the league of innovation-driving countries).

May their tribe increase…

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