An Ungainly Scramble by MOHAMMED ATAUR REHMAN (JANUARY 14, 2008)

Really great men (and women) don't hanker for public adulation or state honours. The communist saint Ho Chi Minh ("Uncle Ho" to millions) was a self-effacing orphanly-looking stalwart who drove the French out of his part of the world. Then, over the years, showed the mighty Americans the door.

Marlon Brando refused the coveted Oscar in 1973, citing the United States' persecution of the native American tribes, and Jean Paul Sartre declined the Nobel in 1964 saying the award would compromise his integrity as a writer. In 2006 the feisty Arundhati Roy spurned the sarkari award of the Bhartiya Sahitya Akademi. Roy has no great respect for the sarkar and its policies.

However, we cannot expect such integrity from our political class, which was not known for its scruples. Recently, Mr LK Advani of Babri Masjid demolition fame tried to convince the prime minister that honouring his colleague and former Prime Minister Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee with a Bharat Ratna will be a great idea.

As if taking a cue from Mr Advani some people are said to be lobbying for a Bharat Ratna (the highest official honour) to the West Bengal patriarch Mr Jyoti Basu. Communists don't seem to have much use for such awards as is evident from the rejection of a Padma Vibhushan, a substantially great award to the Marxist leader EMS Namboodripad. The buzz from CPM says the party is not interested in getting a Bharat Ratna.

The South is not behind the North and East in the scramble for a Bharat Ratna. Some lobbying is on for Karunanidhi as well, so goes the grapevine. Now, the one crore rupee question is: why are we so enamoured of awards. The answer is not all that complicated: We don't have the substance of a Brando (who already had bagged two Oscars before rejecting a third), a Sartre, or an Arundhati. In that case an award will make us look more important than we really are. That is why we would not mind an ungainly scramble to grab an award that would hopefully confer some much-needed dignity on us.




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