Rs10 crore gone waste. Someone from the film or sports fraternity could have benefited or some talented person from an underprivileged background may have got the much needed aid. If it could not benefit a person, at least some much needed training camps, or some fresh thinking could have been imbued in the age-old institutions of sports and arts. Some improvements in the existing infrastructure in these two domains could have been implemented.
All this could not happen as the two presidential nominees for the Rajya Sabha were too besotted with this new recognition that they simply confused their empowerment with entitlement. God of cricket Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, and the original Bollywood diva, Rekha, just do not know that with recognition comes responsibility. After completing two years of their tenure in the Upper House, according to information drawn from the official website of the Rajya Sabha, the two have not raised a single question in the house, they have not taken any active part in the debates and they have not spent a single paisa from the Rs5 crore a year MPLAD (Member of Parliament Local Area Development) fund for the welfare of the area they adopt or the field they come from.
Rajya Sabha members get a stipulated Rs5 crore a year for development of their chosen area and this amount lapses at the end of each financial year. In effect, Rekha and Tendulkar each have Rs30 crore under their belt to fund some change in the fields in which they began their journey.
Of the 250 members of the Rajya Sabha, 12 are nominated by the President of India for their contributions to art, literature, science, and social services. As per the Rajya Sabha website, "by adopting the principle of nomination in the Rajya Sabha, the Constitution has ensured that the nation must also receive services of the most distinguished persons of the country who have earned distinction in their field of activity, many of whom may not like to face the rough and tumble of the election. By nominating them to Rajya Sabha, the State not only recognises their merit and confers honour on them, but also enables them to enrich the debates by their expertise and knowledge that they have in different areas."
I have no comment on the way the government of the day decides the nominations for a significant civilian honor. That is an area fraught with controversies and juicy stories, tempting to talk about, but not the crux of this piece.
The entire politicization of the nomination for civilian awards may be unnecessary, but the fact remains that every time a luminary is nominated, s/he must understand the significance of the award and her nomination, the role s/he has played to deserve it and the role s/he can play in the future to honor it.
They are the best judges to know whether they can 'enable' and 'enrich' society with their talent, thoughts and ideas. They may not be seen as lesser talent if they said no to the additional responsibility. But do they really look at these honors as responsibility to begin with?
More than Rekha, it is a 'legend' like Tendulkar who is setting the wrong example of aspirational values and idealism. Whether it is the Bharat Ratna or the Rajya Sabha seat, Tendulkar has been awarded the honors on the basis of his talent and the contribution he has made to put India on the global cricket map. I neither grudge him the award nor would I ever say I am not proud of the genius India has produced. But do I respect him as the highest civilian or as a member of parliament? Maybe not.
What would you call that talent that has been honored and empowered by the government to make a difference socially in his area of expertise, yet he does not understand the value of that power? Perhaps the significance of the lapsed amount is lost on him, as a mere Rs5 crore may mean a lousy endorsement deal he is already doing. Even more, what would you call a talent who is given the country's highest civilian honor but continues to endorse inverters and trite brands with questionable claims?
Unfortunately, political agendas have trivialized national honors so much today that they are being seen more as entitlement than responsibility even by the recipients. So Padma awards are rejected summarily by luminaries like the ace playback singer S Janaki. The empress of Kathak, Sitara Devi, also refused to accept the Padma Bhushan award, declaring, "it is an insult, not an honor". A report from the Press Trust of India also quoted her as saying: "Is this government not aware of my contribution to Kathak? I will not accept any award less than Bharat Ratna."
With great recognition comes great responsibility – an accountability to not just yourself but to the people who look up to you seeking inspiration. A genius may get there occasionally, but it is only a gentleman who knows the difference between empowerment and entitlement.
(The writer is managing consultant of The Key Consumer Diagnostics Pvt Ltd, a Mumbai-based qualitative research company.)