His Excellency A.P.J.Abdul Kalam,
Dear Your Excellency,
Subject: Promoting Indian talent, recognising great individuals
I take this opportunity of writing to you, once again, on a subject that has been agitating my mind for long and I am sure that would be equally agitating some of our fellow countrymen and women.
Under your years in the high office, the Government of India, as far as I know, hasn’t conferred any Bharat Ratna on any Indian of eminence so far. Why this has been so? I wonder Whether we as a people have become incapable of recognising talents and achievements among our people. I feel pained to think so.
This morning I was listening to the Sangeetha Samrat Pandit Bhinsen Joshi and I was immediately provoked to ask myself: Has this master got the Bharat Ratna? I don’t know. Then my mind wandered far and wide and I continued to ask myself who all got this great honour and while I could recount some names, others I couldn’t know, some political leaders of eminence, others artists of eminence. May be the only two categories I could recognise in the list of this great award.
Then, I also recalled what happened to the effort under your great predecessor, K.R.Narayanan. When he proposed the names of Dr.Verghese Kurien, that name could not be taken up by the Vajpayee government, as if I can say so, Dr.Kurien was based in Gujarat and Gujarat at that time was in the news for the wrong reasons! And also the Vajpayee government could not have antagonised the Gujarat leader’s feelings and so too the majority community-based politics of the time. In the end the President had to take back his “recommendation”! What a shame I thought.
Just now I was also going through a new book,” History in Quotations”, the 1000 odd pages massive volume you must have seen also. When I searched for the quotation pertaining to Cicero, I was touched by the line, of course a very old line that must have been too familiar to any humanities educated person: Civis Romanuus sum (I am a Roman citizen).This was said when Cicero won a high-profile case for abuse of power against a Roman governor (Against Verres 5th speech in 70 BC) who had not even respected the rights of the Roman citizens. This line had been quoted many times buy many for different reasons and one important reason used to be whenever a citizen (or subject) feels threatened by the enemies, as of the old Roman citizen felt free from such indignities, so too every citizen must feel confident and live as free citizens and the State would stand by and protect the citizens.
We as Indian citizens are still far from such confidence and we feel that somehow still the State doesn’t come forward to recognise and bring out the best talents to the attention of the country and the people.
When it comes to confer such recognitions, we still go by many extraneous considerations. Specifically, when it comes to conferring new Bharat Ratnas, it is not there is no dearth of such eminent persons in our midst. There are quite a number. Just to list some names, I dare say, that such persons like a Jyoti Basu, Ela Bhatt, Verghese Kurien himself, Baba Amte, the Jaipur foot man, even a rebel like Medha Patkar are all people who stood up for their principles and fought all their lives. They are worthy of our admiration and recognition.
It is not all such persons need to be pro-establishment persons, any great radical thinker or doer will be necessarily go against the current. Artists like a Balamurali Krishna should have been conferred this recognition long ago.
Anyway, my point is not to make any specific recommendations or points. My point is that whatever recognition a State confers on an outstanding personality that would be recognition for the country which values such ideals and missions.
Somehow we seem to be a nation obsessed with bureaucratic hassles; we go by some dominant and accumulated old baggage when it comes to new and daring ideas and quests.
Your Excellency called on the distinguished writer and columnist Kushwant Singh. And asked:” What I should do in the next 15 years”. A very thoughtful question, I thought. The answer was also right. He said he was not competent enough to proffer you any advice on such a difficult question, knowing your own eminence.(By the way why he has been chosen to be awarded the Padmavibhusan, as I knew and remember Singh only by his dirty jokes, not for his gravitas?).
Anyway, there seems no way a poet or a serious writer or an independent intellectual, a painter, a sculptor or an architect would ever qualify to be called a Bharat Ratna! Nor, anyone who spends life for protecting the environment, our rivers or waters or works for inter-religious understanding is likely to have the political approval for being considered for such honours. The highest such recognition goes only for those who have already been recognised by outsiders, like the Nobel Prize Committee or military technology or such practical considerations and even compulsions! May I dare to offer an answer? Or, in the nature of a response?
You have created a great awakening in the youth of this country, to dare to dream and contribute to making India a developed country. Now, you will be having lots of time to reflect and ponder over the future. I would urge to think of the larger issues of the world. I was once invited in the yeat 1971 to France by a group of NGOs. One event stands out in my memory.
The organisation was Citiyon de Monde. Citizens of the world. I don’t know how far such an idea had moved forward. But the French have imagination. Not many other cultures possess such strengths.
I would urge you take up such international questions like disarmament, peace, peaceful means to solve international strife and such like causes. Very much like, if I can say so, what the former American President, Jimmy Carter is doing. Carter hasn’t been free from criticism; he has earned the wrath of certain quarters, called names. But a brave heart to pursue peace in West Asia and elsewhere.
While we have forgotten many more famous names, we still, that is the world still recalls the name of Carter, whose candidness and candour, his integrity, his ways of doing things, be it diplomacy or constructive voluntary work and his thoughts continue to draw the attention of the world and he is found to be much more useful than the many who are in power.
I am confident that India would become a developed country only when it acquires skills; we produce men and women of moral power, who are capable of taking up bigger challenges, in solving international disputes and contribute to peace processes. Such moral stature of Indians only will help India to win true recognition and a place of honour for India in the world of today.
I hope I have unburdened my mind, as a citizen of this great Republic over which you have been presiding with such distinction.