National honour and controversy

Print edition : February 02, 2002

JUST under 100 persons have been selected this year for the Padma awards, announced on the eve of Republic Day, in recognition of their contribution in their field. Of the 98, five have been chosen for the award of Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian honour. Of the remaining recipients, 27 have received the Padma Bhushan and 66 the Padma Shri.


Considering the size and diversity of the country, the total number can in no way be termed excessive. Last year, 109 Padma awards were announced. However, does the government follow strict criteria for choosing the awardees? This question appears inevitable even though the Government has not named anyone for the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour. Under the rules framed for awarding these honours, the Bharat Ratna need not necessarily be given every year. Last year, melody queen Lata Mangeshkar and shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan were honoured with the Bharat Ratna. The decision not to name anyone this year does not probably show the government's inability to find deserving persons. Doubts have been raised about the standards of objectivity followed by the selectors of the awards.

Gangubai Hangal-

The five Padma Vibhushan recipients are Hindustani vocalists Gangubai Hangal and Kishori Amonkar, economist and Andhra Pradesh Governor Chakravarty Rangarajan, Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee and tabla maestro Pandit Kishan Maharaj. These persons of eminence have no doubt contributed richly to their respective fields of endeavour to deserve the high honour.

Pandit Kishan Maharaj-REENA SOPANI

Prominent among the Padma Bhushan awardees are present cricket selector and allrounder in the 1960s Chandu Borde, mountaineer Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia, stage legend Habib Tanvir, New-York based film-maker Ismail Merchant, senior advocate of the Supreme Court K.K. Venugopal, Mahindra and Mahindra chairman Keshub Mahindra, former Foreign Secretaries Jagat Singh Mehta and M.K. Rasgotra, tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain, and septuagenarian Kathak exponent Sitara Devi.

C. Rangarajan-

Devi, who took to dancing at the age of seven under the tutelage of her illustrious father, Sukhdev Maharaj, described the award of Padma Bhushan to her as an "insult" and said she would not accept anything less than the Bharat Ratna. To her the ultimate honour was Rabindranath Tagore describing her, at the age of 16, as the "Kathak Queen". Devi's is an instance of how the government belatedly recognises talent, and when it does it is considered insufficient and discriminatory. "Little-known people who are younger than me have received the Padma Vibhushan," complained Devi, who still trains dancers in Mumbai.

Soli Sorabjee-

It is not entirely surprising that Devi has a reasonably valid ground to criticise the selection. In 2000, eminent writer R.K. Narayan was awarded the Padma Vibhushan even though he richly deserved the Bharat Ratna.