Regardless of whether or not the Rajya Sabha accords its approval to the contentious legislation amending the Citizenship law, there already has been a major casualty ~ the Bharat Ratna, which on paper is the nation’s most prestigious civilian honour. Since posthumous awards can neither be returned nor rejected, the logbook will record it as having been conferred on the iconic Dr Bhupen Hazarika of Assam, but a hard-hitting statement from his US-based son said that it was a dubious attempt to seek political favour when vast sections of the people in the North-east were vehemently opposed to the Citizenship Bill. Since he had not been invited to accept the award, there was nothing for him to shun, yet he has said enough to shame the government for playing inexpensive politics with the Ratna. If Mr Ram Nath Kovind, Mr Narendra Modi & Co. have a degree of self-respect they would seek expert advice on how to rescind the unilateral announcement made on Republic Day: it is worth recalling that another noted figure in the world of arts and culture rejected a lesser award since it also appeared to be politically motivated. True that earlier too have awards been rejected/returned, but the “tally” during NDAII is disgraceful, and arguments that the Opposition has provoked the protest would be accepted only in saffron circles. For the government has yet to prove its credentials of functioning at non-political/ non-electoral levels.
It would be best to adhere to Tej Hazarika’s own words to articulate his feelings. He has said, “As the son of Dr Bhupen Hazarika I believe that my father’s name and words are being invoked and celebrated publicly while plans are afoot to pass a painfully unpopular bill regarding citizenship, that is actually undermining his documented position. It would in reality be in direct opposition to what Bhupenda believed in his heart of hearts. He would never have endorsed what appears to be an underhanded way of pushing a law against the will and benefit of the majority in a manner that also seems to be grossly un-constitutional, un-democratic and un-Indian. Adopting any form of this bill will ultimately have the sad and undesirable effect of not only disrupting the quality of life, language, identity and power balance of the region, but that of undermining my father’s position ~ by delivering a wreaking blow to the harmony, inner integrity and unity of the secular and democratic Republic of India.” Bharat Ratnas and bridges will not promote peace and prosperity. Only just popular laws and foresight on the part of leadership will. “How the Centre moves far outweighs the importance of the awarding and receiving of such national recognition ~ a display of short-lived cheap thrills.