I would have liked to start the year by writing about something more pleasant, but the Union minister for road transport and highways, Nitin Gadkari, steered my thoughts in an altogether different direction with his revelations regarding the lobbying for the Padma awards. At a speech during a public event in Nagpur, he complained about the nuisance created by the reportedly large number of people who pester him for letters of recommendation. To satisfy their demands and to extricate himself from their clutches, he smilingly revealed that he must have issued a thousand such letters of recommendation. He then declared that veteran actor Asha Parekh did not hesitate to trudge up 12 floors to reach his residence, all to convince him that she was worthy of the Padma Bhushan, even though she had been awarded the Padma Shri more than two decades ago. Parekh has reportedly denied lobbying for the award.

Perhaps all that the beleaguered minister under siege from eager Padma award-seekers hoped to do was get a few laughs from his audience. What he also succeeded in doing was to ridicule the awards, the selection process for the awards and, of course, the award-seekers themselves. That, I am afraid, is no laughing matter since the Padma awards are among the highest civilian awards in the country, bestowed on individuals of exceptional merit and distinguished service.

Tragic and humiliating as it is to be reminded that people of exceptional merit feel the urge to lobby for awards, the minister’s public mocking of the awards and award-seekers is even more shocking and disturbing.

If the lobbying is pathetic, so is the open declaration that the minister issues letters of recommendation by the thousand, not because he believes in the merit of the award-seekers, but merely to rid himself of the bother of dealing with them. The list of persons recommended for the awards in 2015, on the Union home ministry’s website, contains 1,897 names but does not mention the individuals who recommended them. It is, therefore, not possible to assess whether a large number of names have indeed been recommended by Gadkari.

But if indeed the awards and recommendations have become such a headache for the minister, the appropriate place to complain and perhaps lobby for scrapping them would have been Parliament. Why choose to do so at a public event? Further, why embarrass a distinguished person by singling her out and naming her? And if you do want to play the name-and-shame game, go the whole hog and reveal the names of all those who approached you for recommendations, or at least the thousand that you claim to have recommended. If, on the contrary, you feel that the government must continue to award distinguished individuals, then you need to suggest a more transparent, effective and fair process of selection and nomination.

A system where people nominate themselves, lobby for recommendations and upgrades from the Padma Shri to the Padma Bhushan and Vibhushan can serve no purpose. Scrap it at the earliest and be rid of your headache, as has been suggested by politicians like Sharad Yadav, who courted controversy last year in his scathing criticism of the selection process as well as the awardees themselves.

Shubha Mudgal tweets at @smudgal and posts on Instagram as shubhamudgal.

Close