Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The farce that is going on in the name of awarding civilian titles like Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shree needs to be stopped. The highest civilian honor Bharat Ratna, excepting the nomenclatural difference, also belongs to this spectrum.

The Constitution of India has put a blatant ban on such titles. Article 18 (1) has stipulated, “No title, not being a military or academic distinction, shall be conferred by the state”. This means, under the scheme of this Article the Government is debarred from conferring any title excepting the military or academic distinctions on any citizen. Titles under the Padma spectrum are neither military nor academic. Hence these titles are unconstitutional, anti-constitution and unlawful. Of course, a Supreme Court verdict on 15 Dec.1995 has gone in favor of constitutional validity of these awards, but as we know, the Supreme Court has always the opportunity to disagree with its own earlier verdict. The Industrial Disputes Act is a point of reference in this respect. However the Supreme Court has not said that the ban imposed under Article 18 (1) on the State doling out titles other than military and academic is illegal. And this original Article of the Constitution is not susceptible to nullification by the Supreme Court. When this original article bans conferment of any title other than military and academic by the State, any and every legal interpretation on validity of awards of civilian titles cannot be the last word in the matter of interpretation. So, notwithstanding the Supreme Court verdict, on reading of the language of Article 18(1), which is a very unambiguously plain, simple and understandable language, civilian titles of the Padma spectrum are extra-constitutional, to say the least.

It is a shame that eminent Judges and Jurists have accepted these illegal titles without any qualm, so degraded a nation we have become!

Besides being illegal, award of these titles give glimpses of so much favoritism that it is difficult to say who has not bagged a Padma title without lobbying for the same or without grace of a godfather in Government.

“The stark truth is that in order to bag an award, one has to know how to pull the right strings”, vocalist Prabha Atre on whom the title of Padma Bhushan was conferred in 2002 after more than a decade of receiving Padma Shree, is on records to have said.

Describing it as `a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’, Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer, even while welcoming conferment of Padma Vibhushan on jurists Sloi J. Sorabjee and K.K.Venugopal in 2002 had to say, “I must confess my puzzle about who really selects, what criteria govern and how a nationally acceptable screening process is adopted”. (The Hindu, 30 Jan.2002)

This year’s distribution of Padma titles expands this “puzzle”.

Ten persons have been selected for Padma Vibhushan, the highest amongst the three Padma Awards. Out of these ten, Delhi has bagged six, one has gone to Delhi’s immediate neighbor Haryana, one has gone to the home province of the Prime Minister’s closest ally in destroying India’s resolution for socialism, P.Chidambaram and the rest two have gone to USA.

In the next highest segment, Padma Bhushan, Delhi has bagged six, the highest in number next only to the users of their respective expertise in foreign lands; USA bagging four, U.K. getting two and Japan, South Africa as well as France bagging one each. So dwellers of the National Capital City and foreign Countries have together taken away 15 Padma Bhusahan titles leaving only 14 in this segment for the rest of India. Out of these 14, two of the provinces, Kerala and West Bengal, under grip of reformed Communists – reformed, because they have been supporting Man Mohan Singh, who opened up India’s economy to strangulate socialism- have bagged as many as six when another strong muscle of Man Mohan Government, Sarad Pawer’s Maharashtra has fetched three of these awards. One each has been bagged by Assam, Mizoram, U.P. and Tamilnadu as well as by Chandigarh. No other province of India has had any body to qualify for this second class Padma title.

Even for the third class Padma, i.e. Padma Shree, lobby looks like having played the decisive role. Otherwise, how it is that massive majority of the awardees of Padma Shree belong to places where the present central government has his support base? See the position. Delhi has bagged 17 of these titles whereas Maharastra has got nine and Tamilnadu has bagged eight. Similarly U. P., where Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and her son have their political stake, has taken five of these titles equaling the Congress ruled Andhra Pradesh. Next highest batch of Padma Shree awardees numbering four belongs to Congress ruled Uttarakhand whereas Kerala and Karnataka bag three each. When Congress led Punjab has got two Padma Shrees, two each have gone to Gujarat and Manipur.

J and K, Rajasthan, Goa, Chandigarh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Assam, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh have got one each when dwellers in foreign countries such as Russia, Ireland and U.K. have bagged five Padma Shrees.

West Bengal, though not shown as home State of any new owner of Padma Shree title this year, the Bengalis have bagged four of this segment through two addresses at USA and one each at Delhi and U.P.

This shows that there is no uniformity in selection from the States. This again suggests that there are provinces where people are more capable and render more distinguished service than people of other provinces. If this is what the government wants us to accept, then this is bad, unacceptable, untenable and anti-integration. No true Indian can tolerate this nonsense.

Selection of majority persons from provinces, where the union government has its stronghold; and non-selection of worthy persons belonging to provinces, where the set up in central power finds opposition; is nakedly indicative of nepotism, favoritism and regional chauvinism and political parochialism.

Moreover the phenomenon is blatantly discriminatory. Lest people know this aspect, the criteria for selection and with whom the selected persons were compared to be adjudged best in their respective fields are kept hidden from public gaze.

The entire exercise needs to be tested on the matrix of the criteria, if any. But no criterion is codified.

I do not mean to say that all the persons that are not worthy of national honor for their respective contributions in enlisted fields have been given the honor, but lack of any codified and legalistic criterion to ensure that no worthier is left behind has made the entire exercise questionable.

To me as an Oriya Prativa Roy getting a Padma Shree may be a matter of pleasure. But when question of responsible citizenship arises, it becomes a matter of despair.

It comes to notice that a worthy Oriya like Barendra Krushna Dhal has been again ignored for such an honor. Why? The question hunts.

Dhal has not only won Central Sahitya Academy award, but also he is the soul behind the Book-fair movement that has made innumerable people develop reading habit in Orissa.

So as a man of letters his role is solely social.

Selection of persons for Padma title, though the criteria are not yet codified, is touted to be based on how far useful to society are the life long contributions of the person under consideration.

On this ground only, as a man of letters, Barendra Krushna Dhal, the social campaigner for letters, surpasses every Indian in merit for the first class Padma Award for literature and education.

If journalism’s sole aim is to educate the people about everything that affects man and society and earth and environment, Barendra Dhal is a top ranking educator.

His contribution to the cause of journalism is well recognized by the National Union of Journalists of India that had unanimously elected him to the post of its President. He has the rare distinction of having reported the last public meetings of Prime Ministers like Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, going against the tides and overcoming many odds in the process that establishes his devotion to duty for democracy.

When Roy is selected for the Padma Shree title in the segment of literature and education from Orissa, why a more worthy person like Dhal has been ignored?

Unless some body has conspired against him, he is not likely to have been ignored.

I cannot say who is responsible. But when Roy is selected under the category of literature and education, non-selection of Dhal seems intriguing. This prompts to recapitulate the past.

When Roy had been made a member of Orissa Public Service Commission, it is Dhal only, who had questioned the appropriateness thereof in his column. She was not found by the OPSC eligible to become a Reader; but there after, as the then Government, marked for manipulative tactics, placed senior lecturers in selection grade in the Readers’ scale of pay, she became a de facto Reader. Dhal had questioned as to how a person like her could be given a constitutional position to control and conduct selection of Professors; specifically when some of such persons were the very persons who had superseded her for promotion to the rank of Reader?

Against this backdrop, selection of Roy for Padma Shree when Dhal remains in oblivion generates suspicion.

Who can say whosoever suggested and/or selected Roy was/were not made not to consider Dhal, who alone had questioned the wisdom behind appointing her to OPSC?

Lobby and further lobby

Circumstances discernible in Dhal’s attack on the said appointment suggest that without a strong lobby Roy could not have been chosen for the OPSC membership.

There was also reason to suspect the role of lobby behind her bagging the Central Sahitya Academy award. Dr. Hara Prasad Parichha Patnaik, former Secretary of Orissa State Sahitya Academy had told me four months before she got it that she will get the Central Sahitya Academy Award. And to my astonishment that had come true. When the Central Sahitya Academy award was not finalized, how could Dr. Parichha Patnaik know that Roy would surely get that award? Was he aware of the lobby and the power of that lobby?

If lobby like this has propelled her to positions and recognitions in the past, it would not be surprising to suspect that the Padma title might also have been netted through the lobby. As Prabha Atre, quoted supra, has stated, “in order to bag an award, one has to know how to pull the right strings”!

Unless the government makes it unambiguously clear by placing before the public as to who were taken into consideration along with Roy and why it is only they that were taken to consideration and with whom her contributions were compared and by whom compared, the injustice done to Dhal cannot be fully comprehended and the conspiratorial side of the story cannot be wiped out.

This is an intricate issue. It would not have developed had the criteria for selection of persons for Padma titles been codified and made public.

As lobby plays the trick, worthy persons are often ignored. Not only in Orissa, also elsewhere.

I remember, Kathak Queen Sitara Devi had expressed reluctance to accept Padma Bhushan in 2002 because persons far below her age, experience and expertise had been conferred with the higher category title of Padma Vibhushan.

Who does not know how announcement of the title of Padma Shree in favor of Shyama Charan Pati for his supposed contribution to Chhau had been objected to by almost all of the Chhau exponents from Jharkhand and Orissa last year?

Terming it “a big Padma Shree fraud”, they had attracted attention of President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam (The Telegraph, 10 Feb.2006) and had demanded for a probe, which had exposed to what nasty extent lobby helps in bagging Padma titles.

Pati was a person whose credential as a Chhau artist was also seriously questioned. Accoding to Tapan Kumar Pattanayak, Director of Government-run Chhau Nritya Kala Kendra, Seraikela, “ever since the organization came into existence, there is no mention of Pati having contributed in any way to the art form”. Stating that the State of Jharkhand organizes Chhau festivals every year, Pattanayak had revealed, “Pati never featured in that event. There are eight Gharanas of Seraikela Chhau while four of Kharsawan Chhau. But we have no information as to which Gharana he belongs to”, he had told then.

On being apprised of how Padma titles are manipulated, the Supreme Court had issued a direction that the no selection beyond the list prepared by selection-committees in various States can be made in respect to persons belonging to the corresponding province.

The Secretary of Culture of the Jharkhand Government, N.N. Sinha had made it clear that Pati was never recommended by his department. It transpired that he was not sort listed by the provincial government. But his name was announced on the eve of the Republic Day! This shows that some one in the top most corridors of power had selected him from beyond the official list in stark disregard to the Supreme Court order. Who is this person that unofficially selected him, when and why?

The Pati issue has made it clear that absolute lack of eligibility notwithstanding, people have been bagging Padma titles if they know “how to pull the right strings”.

Famous poet Dilip Chitre is quoted in Times of India on 2 Feb.2003 as having said, “We have a darbari culture and awards are often doled out as favors, apparently in exchange of personal loyalty”. He has cited how Yashwantrao Chavan had cultivated a Padma Bhushan title for his professor N.S.Phadke, even as senior and more deserving litterateurs languished in anonymity.

It is a shame to recall how Atal Behari Vajpayee as Prime Minister was seen as the force behind a junior vocalist of Mumbai in being chosen for Padma title in 2001 leaving behind much more deserving, senior and superb exponents to languish, simply because he had given voice to his poems.

This reminds one of how such phenomenon was described by S. Kalidas, Associate Editor of India Today in its pages in February, 2001 in a reaction to refusal of Padma Bhushan by Ustad Vilayat Khan. He had noted, “Our mandarins in the government have always behaved like the proverbial lotus-eaters. They are invariably so full of their own sense of self-importance and power of patronage that they are blind to all nuances of ground realities. Besides the system of selection of Padma Awardees is flawed to the core. For some reason this is something that the ministry of Home Affairs, the cabinet, the Prime Minister and the President are all involved in. And with these luminaries, State Chief Ministers, Chief Secretaries and Governors also have a say in recommending people from their respective States. But none of these VIPs are ever really well informed about any of the fields that they are supposed to select the recipients from. So the choice is more often determined simply by the exigency of who knows whom”.

Giving a picture of how mandarins manipulate Padma awards, B. N. Tandon, an erstwhile power-player in the Prime Minister’s Office during Indira Gandhi’s regime, in his diary dated January 17, 1975, has noted, “This afternoon, at lunch, the topic of the Padma awards came up. This year I have not taken any interest in this. It is true that I wanted Amjad to get the Padma Shri because last year his name had been left out. The committee of secretaries has recommended his name again this year, but it has been removed by the Prime Minister at the instance of Usha Bhagat. Sharda didn’t approve of this and he told the Prime Minister that it was his and my view that it would be wrong to deny this award to Amjad this year. Then something happened which necessitated consultation with Haksar who also took the view that Amjad should definitely get the Padma Shri. Now his name is on the list, but I haven’t told him.” (PMO diary-I, page 157)

Evidences of manipulation in conferment or achievement of Padma titles are galore. Mr. K. Natwar Singh has put on records that in 1983 he had wanted Padma Bhushans and Padma Shrees for those who had helped organised the two summits, NAM and CHOGAM in New Delhi on the precedence created by conferring Padma on organizers of the Asian Games in 1982. But Indira Gandhi did not approve. She approved Alexander’s recommendations in his favor as a result of which, his name was announced for Padma Bhusan on 26 January 1984. (Profiles and Letters, P. 204).

Call it an instance of sycophancy if you like. But conferment of Bharat Ratna on Indira Gandhi by V.V. Giri on his own accord points out to the fact that the highest Civilian Title of the Country is susceptible to individual preference. How President K.R.Narayan had wanted Bharat Ratna for C. Subramaniam has been on records by former Prime Minister I.K.Gujral.

So, lobby and the ability to pull “the right string” are fetching Padma titles for the aspirants. Even the committees constituted for selection are suspected to be comprising of lobbyists of different aspirants. Had it not been so, in 2005, Ranbaxy Laboratories founder Bhai Mohan Singh, then under trial for bouncing of a Cheque, would not have been chosen for Padma Bhushan.

The entire business of Padma besides being ultra vires of Indian Constitution; is unprincipled.

Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister was a man of many dreams and as dreamers usually arrive at emotional decisions, he had formulated these national honors. In a letter to Chief Ministers in 1954, he had told them that the awards were meant for “rather distinguished people in science, engineering, medicine, art, literature and social work. This indicates the way India looks today. We honor the creative and the developmental activities of the nation and we wish people to honor them”. He had not contemplated then that a time will come when self seekers shall not only engage lobbyists to fetch these titles, but also shall endeavor to fetch still higher titles one after the other.

Look at Orissa’s Kelucharan Mohapatra, in whose perception his son and his daughter-in-law are the only true sources of education in Odissi dance, on whom students of the dance form may depend in future. To a question from Orissa’s the then art-sentinel Bibhuti Mishra as to as Sanjukta Panigrahi was no more there, who could be considered a guide; he had said that role may fit to his son who holds his banner Srjan or to “any dedicated student of mine or my daughter-in-law or even my granddaughter” as if no other Odissi exponent had any worth. In fact so averse was he to others that he had no hesitation in alleging that they are polluting the dance form “in the name of improvisation and innovations and many so-called great dancers are also guilty of this”.

When reminded of the innovations he has claimed to have made himself, in this interview, Mohapatra had tried to confuse the interviewer by jargon like “I have operated within the basic idiom of the classical code”.

What classical code? Mohapatra had never given due credit to Kavichandra Kali Charan Pattanayak but for whom Odissi was never to earn classical status and artists like him were not to so easily shine as they did. On the other hand, he has never followed Abhinaya Darpana Prakash, the only scripture held as Grammar of the dance form, on the basis of which Odissi is bound to be regarded as classic for ever. He was a performing artist, not a scriptural scholar. When he is no where on records to have followed the Code of Odissi, i.e. the Abhinaya Darpana Prakash, authored by the Prince of Tigiria, Jadunath Rai Singh, his attempts to justify his so called innovations in the name of classical code is nothing but a tactful escapement.

Reacting sharply to Bibhuti’s suggestion that Sanjukta Panigrahi “could not get anything beyond Padma Shri while others of doubtful merit but with better contacts and lobbying power got even the Padma Bhushan …” he had asked “what has my wife, Laxmipriya Mohapatra got? She was the first female Odissi dancer who brought the dance form to the stage. She is also the one who inspired a whole generation of dancers, but she has remained unsung. Even the State Sangeet Natak Akademi has not bothered to honour her”.

Mark the man. He was so severely angry over his wife not getting State recognition that he did not hesitate to keep it on records. But he has never said that the best of civilian title should be bestowed upon Kavichandra Kalicharan who was the real architect of Odissi’s classical status. Can any self-centric person be different from this type?

But this gentleman is remembered for the promotions he acquired one after one in the ladder of Padma. He bagged Padma Shree in 1972, Padma Bhushan in 1989 and Padma Vibhushan in 2000. Is there a curriculum in Padma scheme on fulfillment of which one qualifies for higher degree? If in 1954 this scheme was formulated for recognizing people of excellent contribution to various fields of academic and socio-cultural activities, any one ward in recognition thereof must suffice. Why a man like Mohapatra had been given all the three Padmas in succession? There is no codified yardstick to determine as to what quantum of contribution would justify what sort of Padma. So which part of his activities exceeded which determined quantum of his Padma Shree fetching contributions to justify his elevation to Padma Bhushan and similarly to further elevation to Padma Vibhushan?

Mohapatra is not alone. M.S.Subhalaxmi had started her run from Padma Bhushan in 1954. Her performance in music was matchless and if at par with Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Dr. Chandrasekhar Venkat Raman and Chakrvarti Rajgopalachari she could have got Bharat Ratna in 1954, which she finally acquired in 1998, there was nothing to object. But she was first conferred with Padma Bhushan in 1954, then with Padma Vibhushan in 1975 and finally with Bharat Ratna in 1998. Many such instances are there. Sans a governing Law, it is fed to public that it requires a decade to lapse for a Padma title holder to be conferred with a higher Padma title. This is also an attempt at hoodwinking the nation, because in reality it is not followed. As for example, Dr. V.S.Arunachalam who had a Padma Bhushan title in 1985, bagged Padma Vibhushan in 1990, which is not a decade but only a half of it.

What does it show? It shows that Padma titles are manufactured and manipulated in favor of persons who know how to pull the right string and distributed sans any principle.

This apart, religion and castes are also being taken into consideration while entertaining any nomination for these titles into consideration. The columns that are required to be filled up in the nomination Form comprise one item captioned “Religion” and another item captioned “Category” where information on whether the person nominated belongs to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe or Other backward Castes or General Castes are sought for.

This farce must not be allowed to infest our body politic like this any more.

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