Padma award (The highest Civilian Award of India) either as honour or consolation prize?
India's highest civilian awards - the Padma awards - have had a controversy-ridden past, and have yet again sparked a debate this year.
The Olympic bronze winning boxers and wrestlers, who brought honour to the country for their heroics in Beijing, are disappointed after being ignored for the awards.
Questions are also being raised on whether actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and yesteryear actress Helen should have been given a Padma Shri in the same year.
People are now beginning to wonder whether the selection process is fair and why is there always so much of heartburn when one talks of these civilian honours?
The question that raised on CNN-IBN's Face The Nation was: Are Padma awards given to the most deserving people?
To try and answer the question on the panel of experts were: Billiards player Geet Sethi who has been honoured in the past with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, the Padma Shri and the Arjuna Award; former bureaucrat K Subrahmanyam, who has refused Padma Award citing personal reasons; and singer Abhijeet.
At the beginning of the show a majority of 86 per cent who voted in, disagreed that the Padma awards were given to the most deserving people while a minority 12 per cent agreed.
HONOUR THE COUNTRY TO BE HOUNURED
K Subrahmanyam kick-started the discussion by describing he had three careers. He was a civil servant, a strategic analyst and a journalist. However, he said accepting an award in any of the three capacities was unacceptable to him.
"In my view I should not accept an award from the Government in any of the capacities as that would compromise my independence visa-vis the state," he said.
When pointed out that the sign of a mature democracy is that success should be celebrated, Subrahmanyam agreed success should be celebrated, but objected to the principle of the state trying to judge and give awards.
"The awards should be given by the concerned groups, not the Government. If there is an award for sports, it should be given by sportsmen and if it's for an artiste, it should be given by artistes," he stated.
Many are questioning whether Aishwarya and Helen should have been given the Padma Shri award in the same year and is it justified to celebrate artisteesin a year which was full of heroes from all walks of life.
Abhijeet, while agreeing with Subrahmanyam, added that rather than giving the award to the artiste, it should be given to the people who are behind the artiste's success. He also said awards should be given in the national interest and not for a commercial purpose.
"I'm not objecting to any artistes getting a Padma award, but preference should always be given where the national interest lies and it should be seen what one has done for the nation before such awards are doled out," he said.
SELECTION COMMITTEE NOT QUALIFIED
Taking the debate further, Geet Sethi said it's very important for the Government to honour people in different fields and there was nothing wrong in honouring people across the spectrum of human endeavour.
"People striving to achieve excellence in different fields, be it Arts, Sience, Cinema or Sports – all deserve to be honoured," he said.
However, he agreed with Subrahmanyam that the state was not qualified to judge different aspects of human endeavour. He thought wherever there were people not from concerned disciplines involved, the element of bias will creep in.
Bringing the aspect of sports into the discussion, Sethi said the Olympic platform was the ultimate sporting platform for any sportsmen where Olympic bronze winners boxer Vijendra Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar made the country proud. He further said the two sportsmen deserved the Padma award.
"These two sportsmen should have been definitely included in the list of Padma awardees," he said.
At this stage in the debate, Subrahmanyam came back to his point of awards being given by concerned bodies and said the group of policy makers and bureaucrats are not equipped to decide which artiste or sportsmen deserves the Padma award.
Subrahmanyam brushed aside the argument that if bureaucrats can make policies for the Government which runs the country, why can't they be trusted on judging who should and shouldn't get the award. He stuck to his point and disagreed saying policy making was a profession in itself and the awards should judged by professional bodies.
"I'm not against the awards, but the awards should be decided by a professional body, just like the Hollywood film awards are given by a professional body and not by the US government," he said.
PADMA AWARD, A CONSOLATION PRIZE?
With Helen and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan being given the award in the same year - at a time when the latter is at the peak of her career and the former has been away from cinema for many years - many people are beginning to think that it is either a question of finally being recognised or a question of too little too late.
Abhijeet decided not to comment on this and instead side-stepped the issue saying that while he thought both the actresses deserved the award, in a year when there were other greater achievements like at the Olympics as well as in the battle against terror, there were others who deserved the award more.
"Vijendra and Sushil are national heroes, they deserve the award more than anyone else," he said.
One of the signs of a mature democracy is the kind of people it is awarding. With the kind of suspicion that surrounds the Padma awards, they sometimes cease to be important and lose their value.
However, Sethi said any award given by the Government will always be valued but what the state needs is a broad objective criteria, which should be made known to public. So, people are aware why a particular individual is being awarded.
"The Government needs to have a broad objective criteria, so people know why a person is being awarded. So, once and for all this issue can be put to rest," he said.
Nonetheless, Sethi concluded that the Padma awards were not given for success in any particular fields but for individual qualities, which need to be kept in perspective.
Are Padma awards given to the most deserving people?