'They have earned their money and their fame. They could have earned our respect by behaving in more public spirited fashion but they have chosen instead to be unconcerned on that count,' says Aakar Patel.
The Bharat Ratna is India's highest civilian award. I think it is a mistake to give it to cricketers and Bollywood people merely for their fame and talent.
Doing so reduces the value of the award and there is also the potential that it is misused. I would say something similar has happened also in the case of those cricketers and Bollywood people nominated to the Rajya Sabha.
Let me take two examples, Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar. Neither of them deserves the Bharat Ratna and both have misused their fame.
Sachin is in the news these days for taking his former business partner to the defence minister to seek his intervention. The issue was some commercial construction being carried out near a defence area.
When news was leaked of this meeting, Sachin released a statement saying he had no personal business interest in the matter. Perhaps not. But is it the job of Bharat Ratnas to peddle business interests before ministers?
To put this in perspective, we should know that Sachin spent three years in the Rajya Sabha before asking his first question. And when I say 'spent three years in the Rajya Sabha' I mean mostly outside it.
A report in December 2015 revealed that Sachin had 6 per cent attendance in the Rajya Sabha and had not participated in a single debate. But he has time to take his friends and business partners to the defence minister to push their deals? I find it unacceptable that such a person has been given the Bharat Ratna.
After getting the Bharat Ratna Sachin continues to endorse brands like BMW. Does it suit public figures, especially ones as rich as Sachin, to do this? It's quite shameful and degrades the award.
When we give the Bharat Ratna to such people we are essentially rewarding their talent. We are not recognising their service, which is the true purpose of civilian awards. Sachin has a long history of misusing his position.
When he got a Ferrari as a gift he asked the government to waive its import duty. Why should the taxpayer fund this millionaire's toys? Ultimately a court had to force him to pay.
When he built a mansion in Bandra, north-west Mumbai, he asked the government to make an exception for him so that he could build above the limit. Why should that be granted to him? It is selfish for him to ask when none of the rest of us ask, or get, such favours.
On June 13 this year, newspapers carried the headline 'Sachin Tendulkar donates Rs 76 lakh to Bengal school'. I was interested by the story, because it did not follow the selfish pattern of Sachin's life. It revealed that it was not his money that Sachin was 'donating'. The school was being given money from his Rajya Sabha fund, meaning it was the nation's money.
This is hardly 'donating'. And he does nobody a favour in doing this.
Sachin is nothing like Muhammad Ali, a sportsman who was given civilian awards for his consistent and brave positions against injustice and racism. And Ali was willing to go to jail for his beliefs.
Ever heard Sachin say anything meaningful on the issues that are so troubling in our time? No. His time is better occupied by selling us stuff.
Lata Mangeshkar was given the Bharat Ratna in 2001. A few years later she said she would move to Dubai if a flyover was built opposite her house on Pedder Road in south Mumbai. She and her sister Asha Bhosle opposed it so effectively that it has still not been built.
A report in April 2012 said Lata Mangeshkar had the worst attendance record in the Rajya Sabha where she had been for many years. It shows her and Tendulkar's total disinterest and I would say disregard for this nation.
Is this how a Bharat Ratna is supposed to behave? To put their individual need and selfishness above the needs of the many? It's ridiculous that such people are, as I said, rewarded for their talent and not their service.
And so far as their talent goes, haven't they been rewarded enough? They have made themselves very, very wealthy. And that is fine and right. It is how it should be. They have earned their money and their fame. They could have earned our respect by behaving in more public spirited fashion, but they have chosen instead to be unconcerned on that count.
They cannot even be bothered to show up in Parliament. (How many times has Sachin missed a match or endorsement shoot?)
The government of the time is often seduced by fame and feels obliged to reward such people (and often there is very heavy lobbying from them) to be given these awards. This should stop.
We should separate the talent of people from their service. It is only the latter that must be rewarded through national awards.
Aakar Patel is Executive Director, Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are his own.
- You can read Aakar's earlier columns here.