New Delhi: Sportspersons would have still been ineligible for the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour in the country, were it not for Sachin Tendulkar.
The Union home ministry was initially not in favour of including sportspersons for Bharat Ratna as it could have raised an issue and forced the inclusion of other fields such as trade and industry, social work, etc.
In the file notings of the home ministry, accessed through RTI by activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, it has been revealed that the criteria for the selection of Bharat Ratna was tweaked just for Tendulkar in 2011. Ajay Maken, who was the sports minister then, had requested the home ministry that sportspersons should also be considered for Bharat Ratna.
The home minister received another such request to consider sportspersons for the award from Member of Parliament Madhusudan Yadav, who wanted the amendment so that Tendulkar could be conferred with the award.
The proposal was forwarded to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which sent it back to the home ministry and sought its comments on the suggestion.
“Inclusion of sports as a field for Bharat Ratna may raise the issue to include other fields such as trade and industry, social work etc. in the award category of Bharat Ratna. The reason behind the inclusion of sports as a field of Bharat Ratna is to honour Shri Sachin Tendulkar,” the home ministry commented on the issue.
“No doubt Shri Tendulkar deserves the highest recognition of the country but there are several other sportspersons also who made our country feel proud such as Major Dhyan Chand in hockey, Jaspal Rana in shooting, Viswanathan Anand in chess, PT Usha in athletics and many more. On the ground of above mentioned lines, it may be suggested to Shri Maken to non inclusion of sports as a field of Bharat Ratna,” was the home ministry’s initial line of thinking.
Earlier, the Bharat Ratna was awarded for exceptional service towards advancement of art, literature and science, and in recognition of public service of the highest order. However, such is the weight that the then home minister P Chidambaram gave his approval to amend the qualification criteria, which was later modified to “the decoration shall be awarded for exceptional service in any field.”
The eligibility criteria for Bharat Ratna was later modified with the approval of the Prime Minister and proposal was later cleared by the President too. Sports minister Jitendra Singh recently initiated the process to bring hockey wizard Dhyan Chand in the fray for the Bharat Ratna.
Singh was handed over an application from Dhyan Chand’s son Ashok Kumar, who has himself represented the Indian hockey team at the Olympics.
“The decision to modify the eligibility criteria was made by those in the government and I can’t say how many of them know the real game of hockey that my father played,” Ashok Kumar, who won gold at the 1975 World Cup, told Mail Today.
“It does surprise me that Sachin’s name initiated the whole process because people still regard my father as the finest hockey player and his achievements were never deemed good enough to make these changes. But still I am happy that somehow things did move in the right direction, whatever may be the source.”
Two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar said it would have been unfair if the home ministry had left out sportspersons from being considered for the Bharat Ratna. “No Bharat Ratna for sportspersons would have been a wrong decision on the part of the Union government. It would have hurt the feelings of our athletes,” Sushil said.
Beijing Olympics bronze medallist boxer Vijender Singh was not perturbed by the recent modifications but said sportspersons should have always been considered for the top honour.
“Sportspersons should have also been considered. No matter if they have tweaked the rule book for a cricketer, at least sportspersons will now be considered.”