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Old habit but with a sense of balance

Two sides of Padma awards

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 26.01.16
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New Delhi, Jan. 25: The Narendra Modi government has continued with the Congress tradition of playing patron to its friends and associates while choosing Padma award recipients but it also took care to include some names that suggested an effort at striking a balance.

Among those nominated to the three categories of the civilian awards - the Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and the Padma Shri - was the late Dhirubhai Ambani, the founder of the Reliance empire.

The brothers Ambani - Mukesh and Anil - hailed the government for choosing their father for the Padma Vibhushan. Mukesh said the award "is an honour to the indomitable spirit of Indian entrepreneurship, innovation and ambition to always do better than the best in the world" while Anil said Dhirubhai was the "greatest entrepreneur and wealth creator in the history of India".

Vinod Rai, the former comptroller and auditor general of India, was awarded the Padma Bhushan. It was his reports on spectrum and coal block allocation that had rocked the UPA II government to its foundations and set off the chain of events that propelled Modi to power at the Centre.

Other would-be recipients of the various Padma awards include superstar Rajinikanth, a personal friend of Modi, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the evangelist who has backed Modi for several years, actor Anupam Kher, who led the counter-campaign against "intolerance", playback singer Udit Narayan, who sang the BJP's signature number " Modi aane wala hai" in the 2014 campaign, Modi's yoga guru H.R. Nagendra and columnist Ashok Malik, who expatiates on the BJP's viewpoints on TV and in print.

Twitterers dredged up an anti-Padma tweet posted by Kher on January 26, 2010, that said: "AWARDS in our country have become a mockery of our system. There is NO authenticity left in any one of them. B it films, National or now PADMA."

Today, Kher tweeted: "Happy, Humbled & Honoured to share that I have been awarded. The PADMA BHUSHAN by the government of India greatest news of my life."

Filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar, who spoke up for Modi before the 2014 election, and folk singer Malini Awasthi, who was part of Kher's anti-intolerance brigade, got the Padma Shri.

Modi's spiritual guru, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, who passed away in 2015 in Rishikesh, was posthumously awarded the Padma Bhushan.

However, an element of balance was infused with the nomination of tennis player Sania Mirza for the Padma Bhushan.

In 2014, when the Telangana government appointed Sania as its brand ambassador, a state BJP leader, K. Laxman, had contested the decision on the ground that she was married to Shoaib Malik, a Pakistani cricketer. Embarrassed, the BJP had rapped Laxman and dissociated itself from his remarks. Modi had granted Sania an appointment soon after.

Actress Priyanka Chopra, likely to be picked as a brand ambassador for the Centre's Incredible India project, will get the Padma Shri although she had weighed in on the side of her colleagues, Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, on the "intolerance" polemics.

When the Khans were pilloried for speaking out against intolerance after the Dadri lynching, Priyanka had said everybody was entitled to his opinion and added that "this is not the India I grew up in".

After Modi had expressed a wish to expand the ambit of the honours to recognise unrecognised professional groupings like gourmet chefs, the first award to one went to Imtiaz Qureshi.

Ad man Piyush Pandey, the spearhead of the campaign for Modi in 2014 and the conceptualiser of the slogan " Abki baar, Modi sarkar", will be given the Padma Shri under the head, "Advertising and Communication".

Hindustani classical singer Girija Devi, the lone recipient from Bengal, has been named for the Padma Vibhushan.