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Posts Tagged ‘Khel Ratna’

Ever since Sachin Tendulkar scored his phenomenal double century against South Africa in the Gwalior ODI, there has been a steady increase in the number of voices (mostly political), demanding that he be awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna. No political party wants to be seen opposing this noble sentiment, and it may well be that given the rare consensus on this issue, Sachin may indeed be awarded the honour sometime soon. Even the Shiv Sena, which had launched an acerbic attack on Sachin recently for his ‘Mumbai for all’ comment, is now hailing him as a modern-day Shivaji and projecting him as the ideal Marathi Manoos. Politicians will be politicians, but one must try and look beyond their posturing and identify the issues involved in awarding this prize to Tendulkar.

Firstly, we must look at the nature and scope of the Bharat Ratna. Since it is undoubtedly the greatest honour that the country can bestow upon a citizen, it can not, per se, have a restricted scope, as any person from any walk of life can do the country proud beyond measure, and therefore, must be eligible for the award. Be that as it may, the Indian government makes it clear that the highest civilian honour may be awarded for “exceptional service towards advancement of Art, Literature and Science, and in recognition of Public Service of the highest order.” However liberally one may interpret this statement, cricket (or any sport for that matter) can not be classified as art, literature, science or even public service. It may be argued that written provisions should not come in the way of a deserving person receiving the award, which is a justified argument by all means. However, the above definition does not restrict the scope of awardees, as much as it defines the essence of the award. A look at the list of past recipients clearly reveals that most of them can be categorized under the heads of ‘public affairs’, ‘social work’, ‘literature’, ‘science’ or ‘art’, and not a single sportsperson has been conferred this honour in the 56-year history of the Bharat Ratna.

A possible reason for this may be that achievement in sports is considered a personal triumph, and not so much a contribution to nation and society (though this is not wholly true, for sports have great inspirational value). If this be the logic employed by the awarding committees over the years, i.e., service to society and not personal triumphs, then writers, scientists, politicians, educationists and civil servants qualify without question. However, artists, and in particular musicians who have been awarded under the ‘art’ category in recent years (Bhimsen Joshi, Lata Mangeshkar, Bismillah Khan etc) fall into the grey area where it remains to be debated whether singing or playing a musical instrument is a personal achievement or a service to society. Coming back to the issue of Tendulkar, the question that arises is that if he is considered for a Bharat Ratna today, then have all great sportspersons before him also been considered for the honour ever since its inception in 1954? An affirmative answer seems difficult to believe, given the absence of a single sportsperson in the long list.

My assumption that sports has conventionally not been considered within the ambit of Bharat Ratna is reinforced by the fact that in 1991, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award was instituted to serve as the highest honour for outstanding sporting achievement, and something that would fill a long-standing gap. The Arjuna Awards that were given for sports served each sport individually, but a greater and all-encompassing honour for sports seemed to be missing, and hence the Khel Ratna. Till date, it is the only other ‘Ratna’ award, which makes it distinct and separate, and not necessarily inferior, to the Bharat Ratna. Sachin has already been awarded the Khel Ratna, and another question that arises now is what can have possibly transpired in the course of a single event (the Gwalior ODI) that broadens his talents and achievements to qualify him as a Bharat Ratna. Surely he has a lot of cricket left in him, and if breaking of records be a criterion to give him an additional award, then we will soon have to invent new awards for him every time he wields the ‘whomping’ willow and outperforms himself!

Finally, there is the issue of the method of awarding. Currently, the government of the day has the final word on the award, and the government is not a body representative of the people of the country. It would be more fitting if the highest civilian honour of the nation is voted by the Parliament as a whole, very much along the lines of the Congressional Gold Medal in the US. This would not only open the selection process to a debate, but would also increase the prestige and significance of the honour manifold. A recipient will have the satisfaction of knowing that his life’s work has been recognized by a 550-strong jury representing all sections of Indian society, and not an arbitrary 10-member panel nominated by the government. A person thus selected would in real measure and beyond all debate be a Bharat Ratna.

I think I have said enough about awards and prizes. At the end of the day, we must not attach too much importance to them, for the worth of a life must be measured, if at all, in terms of the efforts and not the accolades. Regardless of whether he gets the highest civilian honour of this country, I am sure Sachin will concur with the idea expressed in the concluding lines of Irving Wallace’s novel, The Prize:

All man’s honours to man are small beside the greatest prize to which he may and must aspire – the finding of his soul, his spirit, his divine strength and worth – the knowledge that he can and must live in freedom and dignity – the final realization that life is not a daily dying, not a pointless end, not an ashes-to-ashes and dust-to-dust, but a soaring and blinding gift snatched from eternity. The ultimate prize is to know that each new day’s challenge is meaningful and offered for use, that it must be taken to the bosom and it must be used – and to know this, to understand this is the one prize worthy as man’s goal and all mankind’s summit.

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