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11 January, 2008

Advani sets a bad precedent in seeking Bharat Ratna for Vajpayee

The Bharatiya Janata Party has set a bad precedent by formally asking the Prime Minister to confer the Bharat Ratna award on its leader, Atal Behari Vajpayee.

BJP president L. K. Advani not only wrote to the government a letter making out a case for honouring Vajpayee but also released it to the media. Evidently the intention was to exert public pressure on the government to concede the demand.

Vajpayee is the only politician thrown up by the Hindutva movement who has demonstrated qualities of statesmanship. As such, he deserves to be considered for the nation's highest award. But by taking up the issue in a partisan manner, Advani has done injustice to his stature as a statesman: in effect, he has cut him down to the size of a politician.

If the BJP bid to wrest an award from the government for its leader succeeds, other political parties may feel tempted to employ the same tactics. Mayawati, for instance, may want Bharat Ratna for her mentor, Kanshi Ram, if not for herself N. Chandrababu Naidu may find it convenient to rekindle Telugu gaurav by demanding that N. T. Rama Rao be made Bharat Ratna. The Janata Dal (S) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam cannot be faulted if they consider H. D. Deva Gowda and M. Karunanidhi deserving candidates for the same honour.

A public campaign of the kind Advani has launched can only devalue the prestige associated with the Bharat Ratna award.

There are already several instances of the award being conferred on political considerations. K. Kamaraj and M. G. Ramachandran were honoured immediately after their death, evidently in the hope that it will yield political dividends to the party ruling at the Centre. Such considerations probably played a part also in the conferment of the honour on B. R. Ambedkar decades after his demise. Assamese leader Gopinath Bardoloi, who died in 1950, was given the Bharat Ratna in 1999.

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