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Awards and Awardees

Ramachandra M

Awards and controversies go hand in hand. Come January, there would be absolute chaos once the Padma awards are announced. Well, this year was no different, the awards did not fail to surprise anybody and they did live up to their innate reputation of being diabolical. So, have Indian awards lost credibility? Did they ever have it in the first place?

The Bharat Ratna, Padmavibhushan, Padmabhushan and Padmashree are India's ' civilian awards in a descending hierarchy. These awards were instituted in the year 1954 once India became republic and are supposedly conferred on people for their distinguished services in various disciplines, of which, art, literature, social service, medicine, sports, public affairs and science are prominent. Awards, though dubious, have a history of well over six decades which makes a decent sample size to unearth their credibility.

The recently announced awards raised a lot of eyebrows, the Padma awards garnered a lot of attention simply because of their modus operandi. Why does this happen so often? Awards sans controversies are unthinkable. India, being a conglomerate of various linguistic states has its base in Delhi, every state is asked to nominate their respective nominees for awards to the committee and a handful number of people sitting in Delhi make the final decision.

Every common Indian's realm of expertise is invariably cinema, sports, politics. So, almost everyone is a connoisseur in these fields and can opine on the awards conferred in these disciplines. It's pretty conspicuous that hindi speakers and bollywood actors are the largest beneficiaries of India's dodgy language policy and much to the bewilderment of non-hindians, it has extended to the awards as well with Bollywood actors reaping maximum benefits. Unequivocally one can say that the yardstick isn't same for all Indians.

Can anyone figure out what distinguished contributions have Padma awardees Saif Ali Khan, Vidya Balan, Ajay Devagan, Anupam Kher and Priyanka Chopra done to Indian cinema which the legends of south viz Vishnuvardhan, Anant Nag, Bharathi, Leelavathi haven't. While the former have worked in hindi cinemas the latter have toiled hard for decades in Kannada film industry. Do they believe that Indian cinema means Hindi cinema alone? Probably yes, or else these blunders wouldn't be rife. If one puts those above names in a balance sheet with hindi actors on one side and non-hindi actors on the other, the balance sheet would be in a complete disarray with Bollywood actors being trounced in both experience and quality front. So, it would be fair to call the award process as an aberration with deluge of errors and understandably the south Indian actors have been perennial bridesmaids.

If a legend like S Janaki is conferred with Padmashree, a decade after her contemporary Latha Mangeshkar was embellished with Bharat Ratna, one may opine something is seriously amiss. S Janaki rightly declined to accept the award which was too little too late. S L Bhairappa, a renowned scholar in Kannada has made a niche in Kannadigas' hearts for many decades now, and his works have been translated into various Indian languages and have gone on to become best sellers. At 84, he has been awarded Padmashree along with Bollywood's bits and pieces actors, which is indeed a testimony for the dubious yardstick in place. Well, there have also been instances of political lobby for these awards with the political prowess of state leaders deciding the fate of the awards. It's a dangerous proposition, or else, how would a Tamil comedian Vivek win favours. One more detrimental aspect of these awards is the innate inhibitions of the government, with the government at helm conferring awards with respect to their political inclinations. Last year a gentleman of yesteryears Madan Mohan Malaviya was conferred with Bharat Ratna posthumously, his contribution was supposedly the Hindu Banaras University. If that is the supposed yardstick, where would the government put Nalvadi Krishnaraj Wodeyar? Unfortunately the gullible Kannadigas do not have the political prowess in their repertoire, which has often been their nemesis.

The nepotism doesn't end here, it has had its say in various sports awards as well. How would one justify M S Dhoni with just over 3 years in international cricket being awarded Khel Ratna in 2008 ahead of the legends like Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly. Even though it's apparent that language had no role in this howler, one simply cannot deny nepotism.

Frontier
Vol. 48, No. 35, Mar 6 - 12, 2016