India Insight

Padma awards 2013: stellar achievements, foggy decisions

Six months after the death of ‘India’s first superstar’, the central government honoured Rajesh Khanna with one of India’s highest civilian awards on the eve of the country’s 64th Republic Day. Reports last month said the Bollywood actor might have been up for the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian award, but “Kaka” will get a Padma Bhushan, the third highest.

India awards the Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri for distinguished service in fields such as art, social work, public affairs, science and engineering.

The process of putting together the list of awardees has been a secretive one ever since India introduced the awards in 1954. The criteria for the awards is not specific, mostly relying on wide-open phrases such as “exceptional and distinguished service”. There have been cases filed with the Supreme Court of India, a committee under a serving vice president has examined the issue, and much has been written in the media on it. The list of awardees often comes under criticism for being politically influenced. Only demands under right to information requests reveal who is on the committee that draws up the lists. Even then, the ministry is likely to advise the applicant to not share the information with the media and the public.

There is plenty of precedent to suggest that the government has awarded awards carelessly or frivolously or to return favors. Some media outlets question the validity of the government choosing winners in these fields at all. From DNA India:

…Is the government equipped to judge works of art, science, and literature? Does a private-sector entrepreneur with a negligible record of public service deserve a governmental honour? Doesn’t such an award compromise the independence and integrity of citizens beholden to criticise and protest against ill-advised government policies and actions? Do the truly great need any certificate for their greatness? MK Gandhi lost nothing for having been overlooked for the Nobel Peace prize.

Much ado in Kashmir over Padma Shri for Mir

It has come as a surprise to many that Ghulam Mohammad Mir, often described as Kashmir’s first counter-insurgent, has been honoured with the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian awards.

Mir alias Momma Kana, 60, who was awarded for public service, has been accused of involvement in cases of extortion and attempted murder.

A man walks past closed shops during a strike in Srinagar June 11, 2008. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli/FilesA police official told ‘The Telegraph’ that Mir’s name sent shivers down the spine of people across Kashmir — he is said to have run a private militia and helped Indian troops combat insurgency.

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