TODAY -

Padma awards now are more peoples' award

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi *



One thing about the Padma awards, the highest civilian honours in the country, - they have truly become relatively more democratic, and it is not rare to find ordinary persons doing extraordinary things getting noticed and getting a space on the Padma lists.

Perhaps, one has not been able to discover all the real hidden heroes and heroines yet, but a cursory glance at this year’s Padma list shows how this will become more and more accessible, and also inclusive in the years to come. A system has been put in place, or an existing system made more robust wherein everyone has an equal opportunity to nominate anyone for a Padma award.

Critics may see political motives, of choosing awardees from election-going states, but the final list does people from many other states getting an entry.

Arid this is not all, the gentry that has made it to the award podium at Rashtrapati Bhavan appears many times more inclusive than the earlier awardees of previous years. Successively, over the past few years, more and more ‘common Special’ persons have been finding a place in the Honours List.

There is of course, as always, representation to the Bollywood and film world, the most important soft power India has been exporting to the world for decades now, but then there are a couple of nominations that few may find debatable.

But on the whole, the award processing process appears to have been democratized, with the active participation of the masses. Now, nominations can be made by anyone and everyone to Padma awards - Padma Vibhushan (for exceptional and distinguished service), Padma Bhushan (distinguished service of higher-order), and Padma Shri (distinguished service).

Like it has always been. What differentiates now is that many persons with lesser means to communicate about themselves are winning nominations - indicating that the process has become more responsive and inclusive.

Just consider these names: Padma Vibhushan to Dr. Belle Monappa Hegde, a cardiologist, physician-scientist, educationist, motivational speaker, author, and teacher for spreading awareness among people regarding health and wellness issues.

Fondly called Turmeric Trinity, Saioo from Meghalaya had worked extensively with the Lakadong Variety of turmeric and helped local women and taught them methods of organic farming too was given the prestigious Padma award.

Another Padma awardee is Tulsi Gowda who planted more than 30,000 saplings and has been involved in environmental conservation, transgender folk dancer of Jogamma heritage, and the first transwoman President of Karnataka Janapada Academy, Matha B Manjamma Jogati, Arunachal Pradesh mountaineer, 41 - year-old Anshu Jamsenpa, the first woman to scale Mt Everest twice in five days, Harekala Hajabba Ji, a fruit vendor from Karnataka's Mangaluru, who built a school in his village from his earnings, and it goes on.

Tulsi Gowda walked barefoot amidst thunderous applause at the Investiture Ceremony in Rashtrapati Bhavan. Haerakala Hajabba, a fruit seller built a school for the underprivileged persons with his meagre earnings that still runs, and this 83- year-old Mohammed Sharif, a bicycle mechanic performed the last rites of over 25,000 unclaimed bodies over the past 30 years - all such inspiring persons.

The Modi government may be criticized for many other things, rightly or wrongly, but not for bringing the common man onto the centre stage of the nation’s highest civilian honours. Collecting a set of inspirational figures - most of them relatively unknown as they worked quietly without an amplifying media behind them - itself is commendable. Or perhaps, a smart strategy to capture the imagination of the masses and present them with a narrative that has high chances of sticking.

Yes, contrasts would be made between the current and previous set of Padma awardees, and critics may well allege a dilution of the stature of the civilian awards. But in the minds of the people and their perception, this is a clear winner.

Especially given the perception around the awards they were usually ‘reserved’ for persons with connections with the ruling elite or are celebrities in different fields. The Padma awards seek to recognize and reward achievements in different fields of activities and disciplines - like Art, Social work, Public Affairs, Science & Engineering, Trade & Industry, Medicine, Literature & Education, Civil Service, Sports, and Others (almost every walk of life).

Many in the country do lament that while people living in metros and state capitals had greater access to the power elite, many deserving candidates could not even get a look in.

Now things are different, with the government calling for nominations, even on the website. Nominations thus received went through a scrutiny process and those shortlisted, are further examined by the government bodies for recommendations.

That the common man has a role and participation in the civilian awards itself massive ego booster for the man on the street. Getting a hand in participative decision-making is something that many welcome, but along with this would come the yearning that this process be extended to other aspects of governance as well.

To be fair, the Modi government has been inviting ideas from the people on many issues, but there does appear an overall skepticism about the processes. Maybe this Padma awards results could give the process a greater purchase in the perception creation and management.

Instituted in 1954, the Padma awards have had their share of controversies due to which public perceptions are built that they are given not as per merit and deserving candidates but rather to those who could lobby with the powers that be. This is a perception, which may or may not be borne out by the facts.

The civilian awards too are seen as doling out patronage by successive governments. Somewhat opaque decision-making and arbitrariness in selections always left room for controversies. Over the years, the successive governments have had tried to streamline the processes for Padma award selection, but they also sometimes exhibited a penchant to overrule Awards Committee recommendations made as per stringent guidelines framed.


* Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country.
He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer, and Hindustan Times.
He can be reached on kvlakshman(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on November 16 2021.



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