Padma awards and the political projection

Image for representative purposes only,   | Photo Credit: / @PadmaAwards

The Padma awards are not only an acknowledgement of achievers in many fields but also capture the zeitgeist of public life. This year’s awards list, peopled with performers, also has the shadow of coming Assembly polls hanging over it- a large number of awardees is from Tamil Nadu (11), Assam (9), West Bengal (7) and Kerala (6).

List of Padma awardees — 2021

Among those from Assam, the choice of Congress stalwart and former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi stands out.

The posthumous honour is being interpreted as the BJP’s attempt to reach out to the influential Ahom community in the politically crucial region of Upper Assam, a region that has 56 of the 126 Assembly seats.

Known for their traditional support to the Congress, the Ahom community had endorsed the BJP in the 2016 Assembly polls. But political equations have changed after the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in 2019 and the BJP may be worried about the prospect of an angry Upper Assam voter.

So from distributing free land ‘pattaa’ (title) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently in Upper Assam to honouring one of the tallest leaders from the region, the BJP is reaching out.

Reacting to the honour for his father, Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi tweeted that even the harshest critics had to acknowledge him as an architect of modern Assam.

“In the times to come, his legacy will be carried forward by lakhs of women and men. The people of Assam will always choose for harmony over hate, diversity over uniformity and prosperity over inequality. That would be the best tribute to JanaNeta Tarun Gogoi,” he said.

In T.N., Bengal

In both Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the Modi government and the BJP are facing the charge of being a largely Delhi-based North Indian outfit, which is culturally not attuned to either the deep South or the East. These parts of the country take great pride in their cultural ethos.

The selection of 11 awardees from Tamil Nadu, ranging from music artists to social workers and entrepreneurs like Sridhar Vembu, is a subtle pointer that the Modi dispensation has the State firmly in mind.

Also read: Ten from T.N. chosen for Padma Shri

On the list from West Bengal, where the “outsider Vs local” narrative is very much a part of poll rhetoric, the awardees include Bengali cartoonist and illustrator Narayan Debnath, who holds the record of longest running comics by an individual cartoonist, the “Handa Bhonda” series.

The selection of cultural icons who are part of Bengal’s cultural life but not so much across State lines is a reminder that the Modi government and the BJP are attuned to even parochial level culturati.

The political efficacy of such acknowledgement via State honours is always a question mark but it does demonstrate the political thinking and priorities of a particular time.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 4:08:07 PM |

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