The award is given in recognition of exceptional service rendered without distinction of race, occupation, position, or sex. Our former prime minister doesn’t fulfil this criteria.
by MD Hussain Rahmani, DailyO
President Pranab Mukherjee has announced India’s highest civilian awards for former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and freedom fighter and scholar Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya (posthumously). In the latter case, the present regime is extending its drive to appropriate historical icons.
As always, the first reactions came on Twitter. Noted historian Ramchandra Guha tweeted, “Giving Vajpayee a Bharat Ratna is fine, but one should not award it to people dead or long dead. Awarding Malaviya is a mistake. If Malaviya, why not give Tagore, Phule, Tilak, Gokhale, Vivekananda, Akbar, Shivaji, Guru Nanak, Kabir, Ashoka, Bharat Ratnas too?”
However, in my view, conferring the Bharat Ratna to Vajpayee raises more important questions. Here are four strong reasons of mine that weaken Vajpayee’s case for the prestigious award:
1. Bharat Ratna only for being a prime minister: While Bharat Ratna is an award for life-time service, it is only Vajpayee’s prime ministerial tenure that is being considered as exceptional and unblemished. Even as PM, some of his decisions were highly controversial. One was the famous surrender to the IC-814 hijackers and releasing dreaded terrorist Masood Azhar in return for the safety of the hostages. After the release, Azhar’s outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammed, carried out several attacks on our country, including the attack on Parliament in 2001.
2. Architect of Babri Masjid demolition: Listen to his speech that he delivered on December 5, 1992 in Ayodhya. He is openly calling for the demolition of the disputed structure. Was it without distinction of race or religion? What happened after the demolition will always haunt us as it severely dented India’s pluralist nature and ethos.
3. Even his role during India’s freedom struggle has always been in question: His controversial confessional statement before a magistrate during the Quit India Movement in 1942 indicted two freedom fighters. This aspect of his life was even raised by some of his detractors in Parliament after he became PM in 1998.
4. Vajpayee’s communal rant: Contrary to his image as a moderate statesman, he spewed venom against the Muslim community during his speech at the BJP conclave in Goa, barely a few months after the 2002 Gujarat riots. This is what he said: “Wherever Muslims live, they don’t like to live in co-existence with others; they don’t like to mingle with others; and instead of propagating their ideas in a peaceful manner, they want to spread their faith by resorting to terror and threats.”
Do these comments reflect someone who deserves a Bharat Ratna?