It had to happen at some time. Desperate to win brownie points from the junta, as has been their habit from the time NKP Salve was a Union Minister and also top honcho of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the Government has enlarged the eligibility for the Bharat Ratna award to include outstanding achievement in any field of human endeavour which by default will now include cricket.
The move has been clearly initiated to accommodate the demand of our cricket-crazed millions that their God, Sachin Tendulkar be awarded the country's highest civilian award. It conveniently does that, and in the process, allows the myriad politicians -- too many by half -- and other assorted characters associated with cricket officialdom to bask importantly in the reflected glory of this phenomenal cricketer.
Two legends: Sachin Tendulkar and Viswanathan Anand in 2001.
Pic/MiD DAY Archives
The Bharat Ratna was originally meant to honour achievement in politics, literature, the arts and social service. The principles behind the awards were crafted by men of vision and integrity, infinitely greater in substance and character than the men of straw who today worship on the altar of cricket. The latter are fully and ruthlessly aware that cricket sells with the great unwashed and is therefore the finest platform to further their personal and/or political agenda.
Now that it is legit, there is no question that Tendulkar deserves consideration for the honour, notwithstanding his alleged failure as a captain and reported inability to be a leader of men. However, has anyone spared a thought for Viswanathan Anand, who has been world chess champion four times? He has been numero uno in a sport that is played by millions in every country of the world. Tendulkar, wonderful player, by all accounts a great human being, is a colossus of mind-blowing proportions, but in a much smaller arena.
Why was MF Hussain, hailed by even non-Indians as a genius, ignored? On the world platform comprising the five billion souls who are not Indians, he was arguably more qualified than Lata Mangeshkar to receive the award.
Unfortunately, because one- sixth of the planet regards Tendulkar as their God, the Government with one eye on the gallery, has capitulated and will now lick their lips to reap the vicarious rewards of what I believe is an ill-advised action.
Somewhere down the line, this obeisance to populism will backfire. I fear that the Government's action will cheapen the award and will inevitably result in the politicisation of what was intended to be the highest manifestation of the nation's regard.