Padma Awards 2022 and the needless controversies

This year’s Padma Awards event has met with some clumsiness. Two things have happened and both have given the nation moments of anxiety. The first is the rejection of the Padma Bhushan award that the government had announced in favour of former chief minister of West Bengal, Shri Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The second is the row over Ghulam Nabi Azad, the senior Congress leader being nominated as the recipient of Padma award.

The reasons and the background for the occurrence in each case are different. Bhattacharjee, the former chief minister of West Bengal is a committed leftist. The Left ideology, as we all know, does not theoretically recognize the concept of nationhood. It believes in class division. In a sense, it is closer to the Islamic concept of the ummah as opposed to Watan. The Indian Left has always considered itself opposed to nationalist parties, ideology and governments.

In India, the Left has always been on the side of Congress firstly for agreeing to the trifurcation of India in 1947 and secondly for its belief that the Indian Muslim minority has the first right to India’s resources. The reason for the Congress-Left bonhomie is that Congress has always carefully worn the mask of secularism and carried forward its dubious agenda under that rubric. This ideology is at the root of the Left hatred for nationalism.

The Indian Left is also fundamentally loath to the majoritarian principle on which democratic structures rest. But democracy becomes palatable if Congress emerges successful at the husting. Buddhadeb had become the chief minister of West Bengal owing to a majority vote he had polled in the assembly but he is not prepared to apply the same yardstick in the case of BJP coming to power at the center.

In the parliamentary elections of 2014 and 2019, the Left met with a humiliating defeat. Hence, a party once considered the kingmaker in India, has been sidelined and rendered ignominious. Naturally, it will keep licking its wounds till a time it hopes to regain the lost status.

The TMC in West Bengal never recommended the name of Buddhadeb for any Padma award nor did the Congress at the Centre. This means that neither of the two found any merit in the former chief minister entitling him for the award. Obviously, the Modi government caught on the wrong foot tried to play politics which did not work.

The case of eruption of an intra-party row over Padma award to Ghulam Nabi Azad is to be examined from a different trajectory. Azad has remained fanatically devoted to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty as its running boy. Whatever he is, it is because of the largesse of that house. He has nothing to claim for himself as an original or innovative thinker in the Congress hierarchy. Azad never raised finger at the Congress High Command for its heavyweight attitude before the inclusion of Priyanka Gandhi in the active politics of the party. Earlier, a time had come when another Congress show boy from Kashmir Valley had tried to outsmart Azad in establishing his proximity to the dynastic High Command. But Azad somehow managed to steer through the storm and finally get his rival neutralized and abandoned to trailers of the Hurriyat bandwagon.

Azad was one among the twenty-three senior Congress leaders who had written to Sonia Gandhi to restore the democratic norm of electing the office bearers of the party. Sonia Gandhi confirmed her name as the president and her son as the vice president. After this rebuttal, Azad has been feeling very uncomfortable. He is confused and unable to say whether he is in or out of Congress. Sometimes he pretends to wear the mask of a troubleshooter and balancing factor. But what does the purging of the J&K Congress of pro-High Command elements at his behest mean? It is clear that he is awfully conscious of his constituency deficit. 

Looking in retrospect, one is tempted to say that Prime Minister Modi was unnecessarily euphoric on Azad quitting as the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha after completing his term. The exchange of modesties between the two was at best something like comical dramatics. People knew that earlier Azad had sought a one-to-one personal meeting with the Prime Minister and at one point in time Rahul Gandhi had made a vague remark that some senior Congressmen were hobnobbing with BJP.

We are not opposed to the government awarding “Padmas” to the meritorious citizens of India. We, as responsible citizens, have every right to discuss and evaluate the situations that throw up personalities in national politics. PM Modi is wrong in imagining that activists with a career like that of Azad will be an asset if they distance from the Congress and demonstrate allegiance to BJP as a major nationalist party. The government may have reasons to award Azad but the public cannot be stopped from attributing political motives to the case. And it is no wisdom to underestimate public scrutiny.

It is also important that when the career and contribution of an active politician are evaluated for the grant of an award, only the bright side of his contribution should not become the deciding criterion. The dark side of his activities should be open to the scrutiny of the members of awarding committee; one has to remember that we are to deal with human stuff and not with angels. Nobody is an angel in the realm of politics.

In the final analysis, we believe that the prestigious “Padma” awards reflecting the trust and gratitude of the Indian nation as a whole in a person of outstanding service to any aspect of Indian civilization should be shown the respect these deserve. These awards should be kept away from politics. The two awardees we have discussed would have been honoured in a real sense if their respective political party chiefs had risen above petty political considerations and formally conveyed the thanks of their party to the government for bestowing national honour to their party activists. It would have proved that the parties in question wanted to strengthen democracy in the country. We also hope that the incident will reinforce the resolve of all award winners to value the sentiments of the thankful nation and preserve the trust with honour and dignity.

Prof. K.N. Pandita
Prof. K.N. Pandita
Prof. K.N. Pandita is the former Director of the Centre for Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir. Prof. Pandita was awarded Padma Shri by the Government of India for his contribution in the field of literature and education.

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