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Revealed: the Ratna gems

- Sports ministry recommended Dhyan Chand, not Sachin
Dhyan Chand

New Delhi, Feb. 12: The sports ministry had pitched for “The Wizard” but it was the “Little Master” who walked away with the honours.

Sachin Tendulkar’s name was not recommended for the Bharat Ratna by the sports ministry, documents made public by the Prime Minister’s Office have revealed.

The ministry’s choice had been late hockey legend Dhyan Chand, but his case was not followed up much by the PMO, according to a sports ministry letter and PMO file notings accessed by activist Subhash Agarwal under the Right to Information Act.

Nor was much weight given to the home ministry’s suggestion in letters to the PMO that sprint queen P.T. Usha and former chess champ Viswanathan Anand be considered for the honour.

Making recommendations for the Bharat Ratna to the President is the sole prerogative of the Prime Minister. He is free to consult anyone on suggestions made by ministries/individuals but no recommendation is binding on him. After the President gives his approval, his secretariat announces the list of awardees.

According to information accessed by Agarwal, junior sports minister Jitendra Singh had rooted for Dhyan Chand — he won three Olympic medals and was called “The Wizard” of hockey — in a letter dated July 16, 2013.

“Late Major Dhyan Chand is the most deserving sportsperson for being conferred with Bharat Ratna posthumously, as he fulfils the criteria of exceptional service/performance of highest order in the field of sports... which made the country proud,” minister Singh wrote in his letter.

“It was for his amazing performance that he was nicknamed ‘hockey wizard’. During the period he played hockey, the Indian hockey team reached glorious heights…. Not only was he a player par excellence, he was a thorough team man.

“Despite his outstanding performances in the field of hockey and the adulation and great respect he got from the public internationally, he remained a very simple, humble and selfless person throughout his life. He was the finest example of team camaraderie and bonhomie.

“In recognition of his achievements, one of the sports awards is named after him. Dhyan Chand Award for Lifetime Achievement in Sports and Games… is given to honour those sportspersons who have contributed to sports by their performance and continue to contribute to promotion of sports even after their retirement…. Further, his birthday, 29th August, is celebrated all over India as the National Sports Day.”

After the glowing recommendation, the Prime Minister had marked “Principal Secretary to examine” on Singh’s letter, according to file notings between PMO officials. But subsequently, it seems to have got lost in bureaucratic file movements.

A month later, in August 2013, PMO director Rajiv Topno proposed that “the matter (of Dhyan Chand) may be put up before Principal Secretary to PM in the month of December, 2013, when the list of Padma Awardees is being finalised”.

For over two months after that, there was possibly little discussion on Dhyan Chand in the PMO. There are no file notings to show the hockey star’s name had cropped up.

Then on November 14, Topno sent another internal note saying a bio-data of Tendulkar had been sourced from the sports ministry to draft the Bharat Ratna letter to be sent to the President.

The same day, the Little Master was playing his 200th Test match at the Wankhede. The day after, a letter recommending that the award be conferred on Tendulkar and scientist C.N.R. Rao was sent to the President. His approval came on November 16.

It is not known whether there was any discussion on Dhyan Chand between the Prime Minister and the President. The PMO refused to reveal details under Article 74 (2), which deals with information not to be disclosed.

However, data accessed under the RTI has confirmed that political clearance is essential before conferring the award.

In a file noting, Topno has enquired if a consultation with the Election Commission is required before finalising names of awardees. A subsequent note says no such thing is required as neither awardee hailed from states that were bound for polls last December.