On the contrary

The Padma Rewards

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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The pointlessness of an award doled out by discretion and patronage


Among the many in Indian history who have been awarded a Padma Shri is also a sexologist, a branch of medicine that doesn’t exist in any medical college. He must have had as his clients some bureaucrats and politicians, because the Padma awards can only be got at the behest of this class. Not that he was ineligible in any sense from getting it. According to the Home Ministry website, the awards seek ‘to recognize work of any distinction and is given for distinguished and exceptional achievements/service in all fields of activities/disciplines, such as Art, Literature and Education, Sports, Medicine, Social Work, Science and Engineering, Public Affairs, Civil Service, Trade and Industry etc.’ But it also says that there ought to ‘be an element of public service in the achievements of the person to be selectted.’ A sexologist might perform some public service but what it is that got the award is never told to the general public. Or the public service that any of the other winners have done. As with actors, who seem to get these awards the more popular they become.

To get it, names need to be recommended by ‘State / UT Governments, Ministries/Departments of the Government of India, Bharat Ratna and Padma Vibhushan awardees and Institutes of Excellence. Recommendations received from them and also from other sources like Ministers, Chief Ministers/Governors of State, Members of Parliament, as also private individuals, bodies etc., are placed before the Padma Awards Committee.’ It is an opaque process from start to end and those who are close to the establishment stand the highest chance of getting one.

The Padma awards are mostly patronage, and that is why, even if we disbelieve Saina Nehwal when she says that she didn’t ask for a Padma Bhushan, we must not fault her. A rule existed that there should be a five year interregnum between a Padma Shri and a nomination for Padma Bhushan. It was relaxed for wrestler Sushil Kumar, and Saina justifiably thought it should have been relaxed for her too. The response to this, if there was such a rule, should have been to remove Sushil Kumar’s name. Instead, Saina’s name has also been nominated.

Where a rule can be relaxed, discretion comes in, and with that comes power to take that discretion. Even now, no one from the Government has bothered to explain why the rule was relaxed for Sushil Kumar in the first place. And why would they? The awards exist so that individuals can dole them out to individuals; a rule for them is merely a veneer of legitimacy.

That five-year rule has now been tossed out of the window. After Saina, the boxer Vijender Singh has reportedly asked why he should also not be nominated. Like Saina, he too says he is not making a demand. These are stellar sportsmen and it is a pity that they should have been brought down to this level because of a hollow accolade which means nothing in compariosn with even one of the medals they’ve won in an international tournament.

That they should make public their want, though, is proper. If it is something that can only be got by asking, then ask one must.