(Shobhaa De is an established writer, columnist, opinion shaper and social commentator, who is considered an authority on popular culture.)
Who needs a Padma? Apparently, everyone, including the Kabbadi player down the road wants one. The insatiable craving for a Padma (or two!) has reached epic proportions. Why not? The Padmas are being distributed like so much garma-garam channa of late, it is but natural that an aam aadmi has the right to believe he is the chosen one... if not him, then a grandfather, distant cousin... koi bhi chalega.
When, why and how did these coveted awards become this devalued? And, if indeed, receiving a Padma, no longer carries the same cache it once did, why do a few aspirants go flat out to beg publicly for one? Here are a few answers to the conundrum.
National Awards are the only awards to be recognized across the board. It is (perhaps, erroneously) believed that they are merit-driven. It is also believed the awards are decided by an eminent, unbiased jury after careful scrutiny. This is clearly not one hundred per cent true. And it has become increasingly obvious of late that the Padmas are doled out for a whole variety of reasons, most of which have little or nothing to do with merit. Cynics insist the entire process is a bit too shadowy for comfort, and based on blatant lobbying. Arrey Baba... so what? Amazingly enough, husbands lobby for their wives, wives for their husbands, fathers for children... and mind you, some of the names indulging in this very subtle practice belong to eminent citizens who represent India's top intellectual traditions. How do I know? Ask for the list of recommendation letters - check for yourself.
Lobbying for Padmas used to be an open secret in Delhi....till Saina Nehwal hit that shuttlecock across the net and it landed where it hurts the most. Initially, I was a bit disappointed that a sportswoman of her standing would be brazen enough to demand a Padma Bhushan for herself and question authorities about the omission. Later, when I thought about it some more, I realised she had indeed taken a big, bad , bold step... but in the bargain, she'd also raised a lot of relevant questions. Had she sulked and kept quiet like a good little girl, she might have 'preserved' her dignity... but lost the battle. I guess in the agonizing toss up between choosing dignity over the Padma - the award won! This girl's no quitter. She has worked hard to get where she has. As a global sportswoman, she has delivered big-time on the international circuit - with very little support from government agencies at that.
Saina is young and ambitious. Impatient and forthright. Competitive and combative. Why sulk in silence? Why pick martyrdom over a major national recognition? This is today's India. Saina is today's girl. She wants to get what she considers her due - and boy, she will go flat out get it at any cost! Anything wrong with that?
Gone are the days when being patient and modest were regarded as virtues. Saina is as aggressive and upfront as the next champion. Let's call her the female Virat Kohli. These are sportspeople who don't hold back, don't mince words, don't believe in shrinking into the shadows. They are out there... hungry for fame and glory . Just like volatile Virat can never be a reticent Rahul Dravid, Saina Nehwal probably won't want to switch places with Diana Eduljee (who had to wait chup chaap se for her turn after being initially bypassed for the Padma) . Different strokes for different folks.
Today's Padmas are bargaining chips, not awards. A lot of time and energy are invested in procuring them for the chosen few. Lobbying is a polite word for what happens behind-the scenes. Apart from recommendation letters written by eminent backers, there is an entire mini-industry hard at work to push the names of favoured candidates. Of course, the Padmas are heavily politicized! That's a given! That's how it has always been. Except, in earlier times, the politics behind the Padmas were better concealed by smooth operators working seamlessly behind the scenes for nominees/ clients.
Tell me, honestly... do you remember even a single name from last year's list of awardees? I bet there is one in recent memory nobody is ever likely to forget - Sachin Tendulkar's . Errrr... and that Padma was not politically inspired? Tell me another!
You know what... I am going to demand a Padma too! Why not? Problem is, nobody in their right minds would recommend my name. But here it is... anyway...I have my Tangail saree ready for the ceremony... Rashtrapati Bhavan, here I come. Who says I can't lobby for myself if nobody else is willing?Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. NDTV is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.