From the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi to schools and street corners everywhere, the Indian flag was hoisted on Independence Day. But the man credited with the design for it, Pingali Venkaiah, was among the several other distinguished individuals, who did not win the Bharat Ratna awards this year despite high-level recommendations.
In a letter dated July 22, Central Public Information Officer of the PMO S.E. Rizwi informed Hyderabad-based RTI activist Rakesh Reddy Dubuddu that 5,955 pages of correspondence and 8 pages of file notings were available pertaining to the decision to award the Bharat Ratna this year. An analysis of these documents shows that the names of over 50 distinguished individuals, both living and dead, were recommended in the run-up to the awards ceremony in February.
The letter of recommendation for Venkaiah came from the government of Andhra Pradesh as well as the Pingali Venkaiah Charitable Trust in Hyderabad. The former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and hockey wizard Dhyan Chand were the most recommended candidates for the awards. These were, however, not considered before awarding the Bharat Ratna to cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and scientist C.N.R. Rao in February this year.
The former Planning Commission member, K. Kasturirangan, was successful in his recommendation for scientist C.N.R. Rao, then the Prime Minister’s science adviser, for the award. The documents include objections received owing to plagiarism charges against Prof. Rao, but these certainly did not affect the decision made in his favour. As regards Tendulkar, there is only one PMO communication marked ‘urgent’ asking for his bio-data. “The decision was made in a matter of hours it appears from the files,” Mr. Dubuddu said.
Senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha had recommended Mr. Vajpayee’s name citing an article by economist Arvind Panagariya in which the former Prime Minister was referred to as a leader of substance. Recommendations for Dhyan Chand too came from several sources, including then Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Jitendra Singh and Minister of State in the Ministry of Rural Development Pradeep Jain Aditya, but were not considered.
The documents also reveal that Tamil Nadu Governor K. Rosaiah recommended singer P. Susheela and Gopalkrishna Gandhi had recommended Indian classical singer Kishori Amonkar for the awards, but were unsuccessful. Social reformer Jyoti Rao Phule, ‘Father of the White Revolution’ V. Kurien, former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, freedom movement activist and Dalit leader Babu Jagjivan Ram and former Odisha Chief Minister Biju Patnaik were among the several other recommendations that were received for the award, but were not considered.
Mr. Dubuddu, demanding greater transparency inawarding the Bharat Ratna, said: “The PMO could proactively disclose the letters of recommendations received from various quarters for the awards. That would bring about some transparency in the nomination process. I received the information under RTI seven months after I filed the original query in December 2013,” he said.