To err is definitely human, but institutions must never err. One crucial mistake can make an important institution thoroughly meaningless and redundant. If Nobel Foundation was awarding only annual prizes for peace, it would have suffered such a fate. Luckily for everyone, they operate in other areas as well and that makes the institution still relevant. Their grave mistake lies in NOT awarding the Nobel Prize for Peace to the most eligible individual of all times viz. Mahatma Gandhi for ‘unknown’ reasons. Every year they try to wriggle out of the same embarrassment by flouting stories about Gandhiji being nominated many times but not being awarded due to the imperial pressure from British Raj. But the question still remains as to why they failed to do it in 1947 or immediately after that posthumously. To conclude that all White governments are essentially ‘colour-blind’ may not be a wrong conclusion even in this twenty-first century. Attitudes and current policies of countries like Australia strengthen only such arguments further.
A very similar situation is arising in our own country in the case of Padma and other civilian awards. The discretion of governments in power is no doubt important. But there are certain towering personalities who cannot be ignored by anyone in power. Turning a blind eye to such outstanding individuals will only make the selection process questionable and suspicious. Many a time we have seen highly popular governments in India (which comes to power once in a while) awarding the highest civilian award to certain unpardonable ‘misses’ and thereby trying to correct the so-called historical mistakes. But that is not enough. What needs to be done today must be done today and not after a few years. The country is doing a grave mistake (and ingratitude) if we are continuing to avoid conferring the highest civilian award ‘Bharat Ratna’ on living saints like Mata Amritanandamayi and Sathya Sai Baba. In many ways it is the least a grateful nation can do to its greatest living children.
During colonial times awards are always given at the whims and fancies of the colonial establishments. More often it goes to those colonial citizens who have worked in favour of the colonial power than in the interests of their own motherlands. Times have changed in India after it has become world’s largest democracy but the attitude of those who comes to power by elections remains unchanged in many respects. The case of annual civilian awards is a classic one. The most important point often missed by the new periodic rulers is the transparency required in any selection process. It is not enough if there is majority liking within the elected group for deciding on awards and rewards. The majority mandate is only for wielding the reigns of power and not for deciding on the colour or pedigree of the horse to ride or even the path to take. All such decisions are always left to the open court of the people at all times.
In sharp contrast to colonial establishments, the civilian awards in a democratic society must be igniting a sense of pride in those who give it than in those who receive it. Any award is recognition for the immense efforts undertaken by individuals voluntarily. No true proponent of charity would wait for a reward or canvass for it behind the curtains. And no true servant of God would put conditions on the beneficiaries of their charity efforts. Some one who is willing to serve all (and hug all), irrespective of colour, race and religion is definitely almost near the one and only God, if not God itself in human form. And when the nation awards such individuals, it is the nation that is more honoured. In India today, everyone knows who deserves ‘Bharat Ratna’ most. And the elected establishment in power must implement that popular desire of millions of people.
Thanks to the high publicity content in whatever Westerners do, charity worldwide has come to be associated with a few Western icons. Many people still have the feeling that if it is charity work, it has to be by the church. This feeling is not only nourished by their believers but also by a vast majority of other religionists as well. And if there is somebody who is taking an initiative in helping the poor and downtrodden, the foregone conclusion is that it will be a White lady of European origin. It is still difficult for our people with colonial frame of mind to recognize and accept a helping hand from our own midst. Many of our people are still stuck in the quicksand of Western publicity regarding their ‘charity monopoly’. But the fact of the matter is that charity or helping others is essentially an Eastern concept that had spiritual dimensions.
Charity is part and parcel of Indian civilization from time immemorial. But many Indians are still made to believe that charity came to Indian sub-continent in the form of some missionaries of charity. It was a clever but highly successful ploy of the missionaries that they could influence their cousins in power to grant official status for charity work only to their own institutions. That is why we find schools and hospitals doing charity work only in the name of a particular community. What their cousins did is understandable, but not what was done by our own Rajas and Maharajas. Thousands of acres of land and crores of rupees were given to such ‘monopolisers’ of charity in order to be in the good books of the British. The very sight of costly mansions in central locations all over India in the name of some such charity institutions is a stark reminder of the mistake made in granting official status to do service to humanity. What must be a voluntary noble work has been turned into a lucrative real-estate business by the missionaries.
In post-1947 India there are hardly any social, religious or political leaders who have touched the lives of so many millions of people than Mata Amritanandamayi and Sathya Sai Baba. The hospitals, schools and other institutions they have built up are reversing the negative destiny of thousands of people every day. Their activities have crossed borders, races and even religious barriers. The world has recognized them, but not our own elected establishment. It is already too late not to have conferred ‘Bharat Ratna’ on both these highly revered universal personalities who happened to be born in India. We should not miss the opportunity to show our gratitude and earn their blessings for the country as a whole.