Bharat Ratna for Lal Kishenchand Advani has gone mostly unnoticed and even more unsung — even when widely reported.
Worse is the case of the conferment of the nation’s highest civilian award on Karpoori Thakur — who?
Advani’s name was in the news after a long time recently — and for the wrong reasons.
The award announcement hence caused eyebrows to rise, making it a cheap political ploy on the eve of national elections, and not a deserved or not-so-deserved honour for one of the longest-serving political leaders and a relatively short-term political administrator in this country.
Unfortunately, the award is not even being construed as a recognition of his contribution to the ‘awakening/re-awakening’ of the Hindu/Hindutva majority/majoritarian consciousness, if any.
If so, the powers-that-be would not have tactically kept the octogenarian well out of the recent Ayodhya consecration, where the whole celebration, and all criticism, centred on only one persona.
No, it was not Ram Lalla, as you may think, but of Narendra Damodardas Modi, the prime minister of India and the single-most popular and charismatic personality in the country, after Gandhiji, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
Rajiv Gandhi as ruling Congress prime minister and party president might have won more Lok Sabha seats in 1984, but that owed mostly to the Indira Gandhi assassination only weeks earlier.
Five years down the line, Rajiv Gandhi’s population had sunk so low that he could not win a re-election. He died as a single-term PM, at the hands of the LTTE.
Modi has already won two Lok Sabha elections on his name and fame. Going by most perceptions and analyses, he is poised to win it for a third time, this year.
Before sneaking into the politics of Lutyens’ Delhi and the Lok Sabha straight from his native state, he had continued to win and retain the chief minister’s job in native Gujarat for 13 long years even in the midst of the haunting Gujarat riots of 2002.
The way the sworn Hindutva brigade and their countless supporters and sympathisers are going in the country and outside are going about it all, it looks as if they are celebrating a man and not an idea or a socio-political philosophy as they may want the world to believe — or, they themselves have come to believe it.
If the latter was the case, they would have been agitated, and would have also agitated on the streets when Advani was carefully and purposefully sidelined from the consecration ceremony.
These bhakts should have also questioned the purpose and hidden wisdom behind the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court dusting the forgotten Babri Masjid demolition case for once when Advani’s name began doing the rounds to succeed Ram Nath Kovind as President in 2022.
The delayed reopening of the demolition case did not move the case inch forward, or backward, it would seem.
But it was enough to remind those within the Sangh Parivar who had floated Advani’s name that there was this pending case of international import hanging over his head.
Better still, they got the message without anyone having to tell them that Advani was no more the flavour of the season.
Suddenly, all rumours and social media posts on Advani’s suitability to the job, and how it would be a first grand step to the Sangh Parivar’s grand Ayodhya project of the past decades — and would also have been a bugle-call for the faithful to notify and the critics to take note/notice.
Advani’s ‘rath yatra’ was the clarion call not only for Project Ayodhya but also for Hinduvisation / Hindutva-isation of the nation’s politics and policies.
Yet, today, his name may not find a place even in the footnote of Hindutva history.
Just as that of K K Nayar, the never-ever remembered district magistrate/district collector during whose term, the Ram Lalla idol made an overnight appearance in the disputed site, way back in 1949.
A couple of years down the line, Nayar, now retired from civil service, was among the first batch of Rajya Sabha members representing the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, still in its infancy.
It is hence no coincidence when T N Chaturvedi, who as the comptroller and auditor-general who faulted the previous Congress governments on the corruption front in the German HDW submarine deal became a Rajya Sabha member on retirement and later Karnataka governor when the Vajpayee-Advani dual leadership of the BJP-NDA government at the Centre (1998-2004), with an intervening Lok Sabha poll in 1999.
As CAG years later, Vinod Rai is remembered for his preposterously simple ‘presumptuous loss’ theory in the much-hyped 2-G scam, which led to the downfall of the Congress-led UPA-II government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in elections 2014.
Rai had to settle for, or settle for the less glamorous and even less noticeable chairmanship of the UN Panel of External Auditors and also as an honorary advisor to the Indian Railways.
If not one has ever talked about Chaturvedi and Vinod Rai for the way they were appointed to post-superannuation posts, just as CJI Ranjan Gogoi was straightaway made a Rajya Sabha member and a predecessor, P Sadasivam, was made Kerala governor, it is only because the Congress rival when in power had commenced all such sins and also became the fountainhead.
In the states, the non-BJP/anti-BJP parties in power did whatever was possible within their limits and limitations.
That includes the blatant defections that are influenced by raids on Opposition leaders and legislators by central agencies — though no links could be or should be established.
It is not necessary that these Opposition worthyies have nothing to hide.
It is enough if they have the guts to stand up and fight their cases or are willing to be tried and imprisoned for long periods, whether as an accused or convict, or both.
It is more than likely that many, if not most, voters belonging especially to the IT generation, rather called the eighties, nineties and 2000’s kids, may not have even heard of Advani.
It is even more so in the rural backyard of the country, where local social media posts celebrate — or, criticise, if at all — Modi the man, Modi the PM.
They do not travel back as those that post those messages may not have even heard about a man called Advani.
They are not to blame. They live in the present, do not think about the future and do not care for the past, particularly the immediate past.
For them, the hoary past is what matters in the nation’s millennium-long history, which they fix at tens of thousands of years for the Vedas and the two great epics, namely, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
So, for them Ayodhya is an issue, but Advani is forgettable.
If such is the case, who cares if Karpoori Thakur, a short-term chief minister of Bihar, is near simultaneously conferred the Bharat Ratna along with Advani, who was much taller than the other in national politics even otherwise — and more recently, until 2013/14.
In fact, the announcement of Bharat Ratna for Karpoori Thakur hit the news a few days before Advani.
A ‘Lohia Socialite’, a terminology that does not exist in the 21st century Indian political dictionary even as a historic reference-point, Karpoori Thakur became chief minister as the brand ambassador of the hotchpotch Janata Party in 1977, and vanished away into political oblivion after a resurgent Congress under Indira Gandhi re-emerged in the 1980 LS polls, thanks to what can be dubbed as the ‘Janata folly’.
Despite the belated honour that he might have deserved even without elections 2004, no one seemed to have been missing it, not Nitish Kumar, not Lalu Yadav, both entrenched in contemporary Bihar politics.
Theirs is thus a lip service when praising Karpoori Thakur as among the greatest sons of the country just as the conferment of the national honour on him is an electoral ploy for a time, if it worked, and not even a political strategy by the ruling BJP at the Centre.
In comparison, the DMK government in southern Tamil Nadu has written to the Centre, seeking the conferment of the Bharat Ratna on one of its studious chief ministers, the late M Karunanidhi. And guess what?
Eight of the total 50 awardees that include Advani and Karpoori Thakur, come from what is at present Tamil Nadu.
The list includes the first three awardees, namely, C Rajagopalachari, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Sir C V Raman, all three when the honour was instituted in 1954.
The state had another crop of three in a row, when A P J Abdul Kalam (1997), M S Subbulakshmi and C Subramaniam (both 1998), were all conferred the Bharat Ratna.
The Tamil Nadu tally would have made a ‘navratna’ if as former President R Venkataraman had not declined the customary honour when reportedly proposed.
Incidentally, the name of immediate past President Ram Nath Kovind too has not yet made to the list even though Advani and Karpoori Thakur have been honoured recently, long after his retirement in 2022.
Maybe, it has to do with his accepting the chairmanship of the Centre’s panel on ‘One nation, one vote’, and whose report could kick up more political heat and dust on the subject than already.
That way, if proof of the so-called dynasty politics in the Congress pervading the nation’s political administration, it is here.
All three Nehru-Gandhis who became prime minister were conferred the Bharat Ratna — Jawaharlal Nehru (1955), Indira Nehru Gandhi (1971) and Rajiv Gandhi (1991).
The former two were honoured when they were very much in office, Nehru for steering the nation through the post-Partition blues (or, so would it seem) and Indira Gandhi for the ‘Bangladesh War, which was as much political as it was tactical.
The award for Rajiv Gandhi after his assassination was as much political as it became personal.
More on Tamil Nadu, as a case-study of sorts, in between you had former chief ministers K Kamaraj (1976) and M G Ramchandran (1988) being honoured posthumously.
It was not for what they had actually done while in power for the uplift of the masses but because their name did sell with the voters (and for things that they had done as CM).
Of course, if Karunanidhi’s party and chief minister’s son had sought a Bharat Ratna, predecessor AIADMK wanted it for their ‘Amma’ Jayalalithaa…
If this is politics behind the Bharat Ratna, those who want to know more about it all have only to read down the readily-available Google/Wikipedia list of the 50 greatest sons and daughters of the nation, including a lone Albania-born naturalised Indian citizen who went by the name Mother Teresa (1980), to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Barring former heads of State and a few non-politicians in the list, most politicians and even non-politicians have found their names more because of what they were purported to be electorally worth for the ruling party of their time than their real contributions were.
Rather, it was the right thing for the rulers of the day to do, as if to create a feel-good-factor that they hoped to cash in on during elections but without having to invest more on social welfare schemes and other development commitments for the state or the region/religion concerned.
The Modi era names in the list would be as educational as any other.
The question then arises, though obliquely: What would have the present rulers done had the Bharat Ratna not carried the prefix ‘Bharat’ in its name, and had mentioned it as ‘India Ratna’?
They would have promptly changed it to ‘Bharat Ratna’, did you say?
If so, did the rulers since post-Independence hide the ‘Bharat’ part in the ‘India that is Bharat’ reference in the Preamble of the Constitution, or are the present rulers wrong when they want to highlight the ‘Bharat’ part and downplay the ‘India’ name?