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Padma for PM’s pick and Vajpayee’s too

New Delhi, Jan. 25: The Centre today ensured that the list of 128 Padma recipients skipped controversial names but it did not forget to pick Brajesh Mishra for the Vibhushan, the jewel in the lotus crown and the second highest civilian honour in the country.

If some of the Prime Minister’s favourite achievers figured on the list, so did two who had struck a chord in Sonia Gandhi and Indira Gandhi through their perseverance in weaving saris and promoting handicrafts.

Mishra was Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s principal secretary and national security adviser when the NDA ruled and was believed to have effected changes in the country’s foreign policy against the BJP and the RSS’s grain.

He riled the Sangh parivar again by batting for the Indo-US nuclear deal that was pursued by Singh but pilloried by the Left and critiqued by the BJP. Mishra’s pro-deal stand churned the BJP in which a section believed that the party ought to go with the tide of upper and middle-class thinking and support the treaty.

Mishra is also the son of Congress stalwart D.P. Mishra, who had taken on the RSS after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

Congress sources said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was keen to nominate Mishra, now away from the heat and dust of politics and policy-making, for a Padma award in 2010 but was overruled by the party. He had his way this year.

In 2010, the choice of the country’s highest civilian awards — announced on the eve of Republic Day — had stirred a controversy when the US-based Sant Chatwal, a hotelier and a lobbyist, was conferred the Padma Bhushan, the third-ranking accolade after the Bharat Ratna and the Padma Vibhushan.

Within the Congress, stage whispers were heard of Chatwal’s alleged links with some political movers and shakers. Some critics pointed to a CBI chargesheet against him in an alleged bank fraud but the uproar failed to sway the government.

However, with the government now battling corruption scandals, the names it picked from business and industry reflected the Prime Minister’s thinking.

Singh, who has recognised the importance of private capital in job creation and wealth generation, has laid stress on the need to instil an evolved conscience that makes companies stakeholders in the social and economic well-being of the poor and the marginalised.

So, Wipro chief Azim Premji became the sole business personality to get a Padma Vibhushan because of his declared commitment to fostering agents of social change through “not-for-profit” education.

K. Anji Reddy and Rajendra Singh Pawar, among others in the trade and industry category, were given the Padma Bhushan.

Reddy was chosen for pioneering pharmaceutical research, mostly for commercial uses, and the Haryana-based Pawar for propagating software education and training through the National Institute of Information Technology and creating a generation of software professionals to feed the growing needs of the IT industry.

India’s IT “successes” have been celebrated by Singh as an integral part of the “growth” narrative.

The Prime Minister’s imprint was visible in the selection of other names, too.

Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia -- who many in the Congress say is to Singh what Mishra was to Vajpayee -- will get a Padma Vibhushan in the public affairs group.

Ahluwalia has not had the best of equations with certain ministers close to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, not to speak of the run-ins he had had with the National Advisory Council on food security and the rural employment scheme.

Shyam Saran, another bureaucrat trusted by Singh, was picked for a Bhushan. When he was the Prime Minister’s special envoy on climate change, Saran had flagged the issue in the national discourse but was not necessarily on the same page as environment minister Jairam Ramesh on international negotiations.

Individuals apart, the list made bigger political and social points. Only one mediaperson, veteran T.J.S. George, made the cut to a Padma Bhushan despite the buzz that nearly a dozen were long-listed. Sources said the government was cautious about this category because at least a couple of former awardees figured in the Niira Radia tapes.

In 2010, when Aamir Khan and A.R. Rahman were picked for Padma Bhushan and Rekha was given only the Padma Shri, some commentators had questioned the pecking order.

No such skewed priorities this year. Veterans Waheeda Rehman and the ailing Shashi Kapoor were finally conferred the Padma Bhushan while Kajol, Tabu and Irfan Khan, generations away from them, the Padma Shri.

If there was an apparent Sonia stamp, it was visible in two names: Gajam Govardhana and Gulshan Nanda.

Govardhana, who is from Andhra Pradesh’s Nalagonda district, struggled to keep alive the family’s “Ikat” craft and weaves, using an oil yarn treated in sheep dung. His unusual “Ikat” saris are a favourite of Sonia. Gulshan, a handicrafts promoter, was trusted by Indira Gandhi with choosing some of her saris and the souvenirs she carried on her overseas trips to gift her hosts.

Bengal nominees

The recipients from Bengal are Dwijen Mukherjee (Padma Bhushan for art), Sankha Ghosh (Padma Bhushan for literature and education), Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty (Padma Shri for classical music), Usha Uthup (Padma Shri for music) and Mamraj Agrawal (Padma Shri for social work).

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