Bharat Ratna (literally meaning Indian Jewel), as we know, is the highest civilian award given in India. However I am not really sure if the framework from which it is given reflects the importance that it has.
This week it was pretty evident on media and facebook when Bharat Ratna was awarded to Sachin Tendulkar and it started a series of fierce debates on whether he deserved the award, or whether there are other sportsperson like Dhyanchand (and numerous others) who should have been honored before him, or even whether politicians like Vajpayee should have been instead honored.
Although I donot agree on the debate of Sachin getting the award - In my opinion (and almost all of my friends, barring few) it was a no brainer giving Bharat Ratna to him, given his contribution to world of cricket. He is undoubtedly one of the best in his field and a role model and inspiration to billions across all states/languages/geographies of India. But I will stop on Sachin-o-rama here as I dont want this post to focus on Sachin but on Bharat Ratna in general.
In fact, this post was really triggered today when I saw US president Obama announcing 16 "Presedential Medal of Freedom", which is highest civilian honor in US - and noticed the contrast between those two awards being given.
I noticed many things that totally surprised me as I was not aware about those, so I am putting those below alongwith how I think it should be changed (my main source of information is wiki for Bharat Ratna and US Presedential Medal of Freedom)
Currently this is recommended by Prime Minister to President. I think this itself is the root of many problems. A ruling party (or prime minister) judgement would always be biased and will not reflect the real picture. For example, many in Congress party do not even acknowledge that Vajpayee is worthy of Bharat Ratna.
I think nomination process should be changed so that -
a) Certain number of awards should be voted by the member of parliaments.
b) A fixed number of awards should be nominated by President (this would included personalities who are not popular etc)
Also, this could be wrong both in India and US, because in both the countries it's the ruling party that is making these decisions without consulting the parliament.
2. Which all area of fields should get the awards?
In India, it's typically politicians who get these awards. This is pathetic, it's like from a country of billion people we dont produce excellence in other fields and we only have excellence in politics.. this is so far from the truth and even funny to note that we have "excellence in politics".
This whole situation gives the impression of "you scratch my back and I will scratch yours", which is what politicians seem to be doing all these years along. This has got to change, and recently they modified it to include sportsperson etc but I think still lot is left to be done on this front including awarding those who were missed all these years.
USA has a striking contrast here as they award it in almost all area of fields and politics is a small part of that.
3. How many awards can be nominated per year?
Wiki says that maximum 3 persons per year can be nominated.
This again, I think is very less number for a country of billion people. I also heard a debate on TV that increasing the number of awards would dilute its importance, but I dont agree to it and I think increasing it to 5 or 10 (or even 20) will NOT dilute the importance of award.
Note the fact that we have other categories (Padmu Bhusan etc), but I still think there are too many indian personalities out there who deserve Bharat Ratna (and many more who deserve Padma Bhushan etc) and that will be only possible if this number is increased.
We can also notice USA here (a country of 300 million - that is one third of India) giving around 10-15 Medal of Honors every year! Something to learn how should we honor our best.
4. Should the award be nominated every year?
Since there are only 3 awards given every year so we would assume it's awarded every year, right? So wrong!
It looks like many year there are no awards given, in the recent history no Bharat Ratna awarded in following years -
2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2000
Only One award given in the year 2008
And Only two awards given in the years 2001, 2014
So, in Summary, in last 15 years, only 5 Bharat Ratnas have been given.
In contrast, in USA it looks like 120-150 "Medal of Honor" awards have been given in last 15 years. I could not find exact number.
4. Should foreign citizens be awarded?
There are global awards like Nobel Prize for global citizens. I am not sure what are we achieving giving Bharat Ratna to Nelson Mandela - no disrespect, I have great respect for him - but that does not mean handing over the highest Indian award to him!?
If absolutely necessary, perhaps we should have a new category called "Vishwa Ratna" (World Jewel) to honor those.
5. Special Case to mention - Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose
One last surprising fact I noticed on wiki is that Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was posthumously awarded Bharat Ratna in 1992 and then taken back (I guess by Supreme Court directive) as it cannot be proven if he is alive or dead. What!! I mean not giving an award is better than giving one and taking it back. But I dont have a solution for this as supreme court judgement cannot be overruled and trying to give the same award again to him will cause the same confusion again.
In Summary, there is definitely merit in the larger debate about Bharat Ratna and I just hope someone from Government read this post and bring about the changes :) ... but that is not going to happen - so we are stuck with this system throughout our life and we should expect similar debates and controversies throughout our life, that is, as soon as it is awared to someone deserving (like Sachin), rather than honoring him will be dishonor to question him or her.