The acclaimed writer and documentary producer Gita Mehta’s declining of the Padma Shri award is in keeping with the highest standards of her writing. This is one refusal that comes without causing great offence or kicking up a political storm although political elements may it see in a different light. It is the likelihood of the conferring of the award being misunderstood on the eve of the general elections that has spurred her to act thus. The distinguished writer has built up a volume of work in a lifetime that is to be admired and has little to do with her being the elder sister of Naveen Patnaik, the Chief Minister of Odisha. The forces behind the nominations may aver that the award was only on merit and had nothing to with the politics surrounding the impending elections. If so, the Padma award should have been conferred years ago on a such a fine Indian writer rather than now in 2019.
It is a reflection of the age we live in that even awards to recognise meritorious work in varied fields that they should be so politicised. The conferring of Bharat Ratnas this year on three personalities, including the former President Pranab Mukherji, is also seen to be invested with heavy political motivation. The least that can be said about the highest civilian honour is the award has been considerably watered down over time since 1954 when the first of 45 Bharat Ratnas was awarded to C.V. Raman, C. Rajagopalachari and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. History might suggest there have been doubts about as many awardees as consensus that many deserved it for their accomplishments and contribution to the nation. We can consider ourselves fortunate that many of the early awards were conferred on great people who were nation and institution builders rather than politicians.