There has been an avalanche of requests across the nation to anoint Sachin Tendulkar with Bharat Ratna © Getty Images
There has been an avalanche of requests across the nation to anoint Sachin Tendulkar with Bharat Ratna © Getty Images

 

By H Natarajan

 

Does the name Bhagwan Das, Purushottam Das Tandon, Pandurang Vaman Kane, Aruna Asaf Ali and Gopinath Bordoloi ring a bell? If one were to ask the question to a room full of bright college students, chances are the vast majority would blink. There is one commonality among these worthies: they are among the 41 people who have received the nation’s highest civilian honour – the Bharat Ratna – since the award was instituted 1954.

 

But it has taken 57 long years ago for the Government of India to “consider” a proposal to confer the apex award to sportspersons as well.

 

As per the President’s Secretariat’s notification on January 8, 1955, the Bharat Ratna is awarded for exceptional services in arts, literature and science and in recognition of public services of the highest order. If the government has now amended existing eligibility norms, it’s only because it is buried under an avalanche of requests to anoint Sachin Tendulkar with Bharat Ratna.

 

It’s doesn’t speak well for any of the governments in six decades that it did not think sportspersons were deserving of the honour for an award that has been conferred even on two worthy foreigners – Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, the Afghan who fought for India’s Independence in 1947, and Nelson Mandela of South Africa.

 

Indians often feel outraged that the Nobel Peace Prize has eluded the biggest apostle of peace – the man who brought down the might of the British Empire with non-violence, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. But can one question the warped wisdom of the Nobel Awards Committee when the Father of the Nation has not got the highest honour of his land of his own country?

 

Yes, Gandhi was shot dead six years before the award was instituted, but the fact remains that there is provision for conferring the honour posthumously and, in fact, has been conferred on Lal Bahadur Shastri, K Kamaraj, Vinoba Bhave, MG Ramachandran, Babashaeb Ambedkar, Abul Kalam Azad, Vallabhbhai Patel, Jayprakash Narayan, Rajiv Gandhi, Gopinath Bordoloi and Arun Asaf Ali.

 

The Bharat Ratna, like other national civilian awards, has been generously given to politicians in general and the Nehru-Gandhi family in particular – Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi – when the likes of Field Marshall Sam Maneckshaw, Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, RK Laxman and Vishwanathan Anand, to name a few, had to be satisfied with Padma Vibhushan – the nation’s second highest civilian award.

 

Why discriminate between Tenzing & Hillary?

 

It’s even more shocking when you find that the likes of scientist Homi Bhabha, hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, the first Everest conqueror Tenzing Norgay, (and to think that Edmund Hillary who was with Norgay when he conquered the Everest has been conferred with Padma Vibhushan!) the genius film-maker Raj Kapoor, the actor par excellence Amitabh Bachchan, tennis legend Ramanathan Krishnan, India’s first global superstars Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev could not even get the Padma Vibhushan!

 

Adolf Hitler offered Dhyan Chand German citizenship and promote him to the rank of a Colonel. But Dhyan Chand refused. Hailed as the “Bradman of hockey”, Dhyan Chand once came face to face with the cricketing legend at Adelaide in 1935 when the Indian hockey team was in Australia. After watching Dhyan Chand in action, Sir Don said, “He scores goals like runs in cricket!” However, Dhyan Chand could not get the recognition in his own country which he so richly deserved.

 

I cannot understand how Chandu Borde with a Test batting average of 35.59 and 52 wicket at 46.48 gets the Padma Bhushan when Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, who went on to become the highest run-getter and wicket-taker respectively in the history of Test cricket, have not got anything higher than the Padma Bhushan! Something wrong there – either those deciding on the honour have elevated Borde to a level more than he deserves, or they have brought down the achievements of Gavaskar and Kapil.

 

And hold your breath! Anil Kumble (almost 1000 international wickets), Geet Sethi (nine world titles), Prakash Padukone (he has won everything that’s to be won at the international level), Leander Paes (12 Grand Slam titles, the No 1 ranking besides being flag-bearer of the Indian Davis Cup team) and Mahesh Bhupathi (11 Grand Slam titles besides the world No 1 ranking) have got nothing more than a mere Padma Shri for being outstanding world champions! Also having to contend with just the Padma Shri is the great PT Usha.

 

Bharat Ratna for Lata Mangeshkar & just Padma Shri for Mohammad Rafi!

 

Lata Mangeshkar has rightly deserved the Bharat Rata, but it speaks volumes about the way the national awards are given in India when you realise that the great Mohammad Rafi has got nothing more than the Padma Shri! Scandalous!

 

Not only has the greatest of our sportspersons were not eligible for the Bharat Ratna because of faulty thinking and, consequently, framing of eligibility rules, but a few have lost out on the honour of being decorated with the Knighthood. In fact, Sunil Gavaskar was offered the knighthood in 1988, but could not be decorated with the honour of being addressed as Sir Sunil Gavaskar because Indian citizens cannot accept the award. And two years ago, British PM Gordon Brown – unaware of the rules governing India with regard to knighthood – was keen that the Queen confers him the honour that would have made him Sir Sachin Tendulkar.

 

Today the nation is voicing its protest in no uncertain terms to honour Tendulkar with the Bharat Ratna. He has smashed just about every record in the game of cricket and continues to be the pride and joy of the entire nation for well over two decades. He is poised to climb the Mt Everest of cricket by scoring an unprecedented 100th international hundred. There cannot – and should not – be any further delay in conferring the nation’s highest civilian award on Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.

 

(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at facebook.com/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/hnatarajan )