Recently there was talk that the chess czar, Vishwanathan Anand, should be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award. So far it has never been awarded to a sports person, though there has been a clamor from time to time that it should be awarded to Sachin Tendulkar, who will shortly be sworn in as a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha.
To put things in perspective, the award was instituted way back in 1954 and there have so far been 41 recipients of this prestigious award. This list of awardees from Wikipedia throws up some interesting observations.
While C. Rajagopalachari, India’s last Governor General; Nobel Laureate, Sir C. V. Raman and philosopher and future President, S. Radhakrishnan, were awarded this honor shortly after its inception, some other deserving cases got theirs decades later! B. R. Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution got the award in 1990, when he had passed away in 1956! But Rajiv Gandhi, was awarded Bharat Ratna posthumously, in the same year of his death.
The ruling parties have used the award to favour politicians who have helped them. Dr M G Ramachandran, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, was given his in 1988, a year after his death, while ironically Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, independent India’s first Home Minister, who did more than anyone else to keep the fledgling nation on a steady footing, got his due only in 1991, a full 41 years after his death! As can be imagined, the ruling party of the day makes these decisions, however bizarre, they may appear.
In my view, if it is extended to sports persons, Vishwanathan Anand deserves it more than anyone else. He has won 5 World Chess Championships, in a highly demanding but individual game, which is in itself an extraordinary achievement.
But, there are many pros and cons of every decision. In India, we love debate and I am sure this debate too will rage on.