Unlike the Padma awards, the prescribed process of selecting Bharat Ratna is that the Prime Minister proposes and the President goes on his advice.
In Jawaharlal Nehru’s scheme of things, sentimental, posthumous stuff had no place in the “scientific temper” he espoused for the Indian nation. So, even Gandhi ji was never considered for the Bharat Ratna. And the presidential order in 1954/55 setting up the country’s supreme honour reflected that rationalism.
This, to the credit of Nehru, ended the populist instincts of rewinding into history and outcries who among the doyens of the Freedom Movement should be included or left out. C Rajgopalachari got the first one, followed by CV Raman, S Radhakrishnan, Bhagwan Das, and S Vishvesvarayya. With five Bharat Ratnas out there in the market place, the first Prime Minister fell for the allure himself in 1955. His colleagues GB Pant, BC Roy, Rajendra Prasad, Zakir Hussain and educationists like PD Tandon, DK Karve and PV Kane got to the podium within the Nehru era.
The order changed in 1966. Lal Bahadur Shastri had passed away amidst a surge of public emotion, and the government of the day capitulated and bestowed him with the Bharat Ratna posthumously. Indira Gandhi awarded herself in 1971. VV Giri (1975), K Kamraj (1976) and Mother Teresa (1980) followed.
The “posthumous” category came alive in 1983 on the demise of Vinoba Bhave. In the next thirty years, 22 (we exclude Sachin and scientist CNR Rao for now) have been announced. Nine out of these 22 are posthumous! That’s Bhave (1983), MG tramachandran (1988), BR Ambedkar (1990), Rajiv Gandhi (1991), Sardar Patel (1991), Maulana Abul kalam Azad (1992), Aruna Asaf Ali (1997), Jai Prakash Narain (1999), and G Bordoloi.
Only Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Nelson Mandela, Morarji Desai, JRD Tata, Satyajit Ray, APJ Abdul Kalam, MS Subbulakshmi, C Subramanian, Ravi Shankar, Amartya Sen, Lata Mangeshkar, Bismillah Khan and Bhimsen Joshi got there in their lifetimes.
So, it is comforting that Sachin is getting there at 42, beating, in a manner of speak, even Rajiv Gandhi who was 47 when the Bharat Ratna was awarded to him after his gruesome assassination.
But was this decision by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yo announce facilitation of a youth icon, an MP nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the ruling formation, taken after factoring the model code of conduct (MCC http://eci.nic.in/eci_main/model_code_conduct.pdf )?
Doesn’t look like it, as the MCC couldn’t be clearer on the duties of the ruling party:
“The party in power whether at the Centre or in the State or States concerned, shall ensure that no cause is given for any complaint that it has used its official position for the purposes of its election campaign and in particular –
(i) (a) The Ministers shall not combine their official visit with electioneering work and shall not also make use of official machinery or personnel during the electioneering work. (b) Government transport including official air-crafts, vehicles, machinery and personnel shall not be used for furtherance of the interest of the party in power;
(ii) Public places such as maidans etc., for holding election meetings, and use of -5-helipads for air-flights in connection with elections shall not be monopolized by itself. Other parties and candidates shall be allowed the use of such places and facilities on the same terms and conditions on which they are used by the party in power;
(iii) Rest houses, dark bungalows or other Government accommodation shall not be monopolized by the party in power or its candidates and such accommodation shall be allowed to be used by other parties and candidates in a fair manner but no party or candidate shall use or be allowed to use such accommodation (including premises appertaining thereto) as a campaign office or for holding any public meeting for the purposes of election propaganda;
(iv) Issue of advertisement at the cost of public exchequer in the newspapers and other media and the misuse of official mass media during the election period for partisan coverage of political news and publicity regarding achievements with a view to furthering the prospects of the party in power shall be scrupulously avoided.
(v) Ministers and other authorities shall not sanction grants/payments out of discretionary funds from the time elections are announced by the Commission; and
(vi) From the time elections are announced by Commission, Ministers and other authorities shall not –
(a) announce any financial grants in any form or promises thereof; or
(b) (except civil servants) lay foundation stones etc. of projects or schemes of any kind; or (c) make any promise of construction of roads, provision of drinking water facilities etc.; or
(d) make any ad-hoc appointments in Government, Public Undertakings etc. which may have the effect of influencing the voters in favour of the party in power.”
It is for the three ECs, VS Sampath, HS Brahma, and Naseem Zaidi, to intervene a whether Bharat Ratna to the Congress’s own nominated MP, one who potentially has a billion voters in his influence, falls under one or more than one categories of violation.
In I.D. Systems (India) Pvt. Ltd. v/s. Chief Election Commissioner, the Kerala High Court has held that the object of model code of conduct is not to stop all governmental activities but those actions which may directly influence a section of electors need to be prevented.
With due respects and much love for Sachin, it isn’t just about a suspected violation of MCC.
It must be asked whether the PM followed the book and, since electoral process is underway in some states, did he ask the EC for their consent?
This, for dummies, is the standard practice where even small tranches of central doles to a state going to the polls, the issuance of MP Local Area Development Funds, or even subsidy to jute farmers are given only after the EC okays.
(The columnist is CEO & Co-Founder, India Strategy Group, Hammurabi & Solomon Consulting. Twitter: therohitbansal).