Bharat Ratna, the country's highest civilian award, was instituted to recognise contributions to politics, science, education, and other areas | Video grab
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There is now a loud chorus demanding Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, for former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and musician-singer S.P. Balasubrahmanyam. While it’s a matter of debate who deserves the Bharat Ratna, what seems to work in favour of both Rao and SPB is something else: caste. Both were Brahmins.

It tells us something that the list of recipients of the State award, so far given to 46 Indians and two foreigners (Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Nelson Mandela), largely includes Dwijas, or more specifically, Brahmins. No Bharat Ratna has yet emerged from the groups engaged in foundational tasks such as farming and labour, which made this productive nation what it is today.

Earlier, the Telugu Desam Party had tried to raise the pitch for Bharat Ratna for TDP founder and former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N.T. Rama Rao, a Kamma leader, but the demand never could gather pace because he didn’t get the kind of attention from the national media that his contemporaries did.


Also read: Kanshi Ram matters in 2019 polls and why some think he deserves a Bharat Ratna


Caste, aside

Of the 46 Indian Bharat Ratnas, 29 are Brahmins,  five Muslims, four Kayasthas, three Shudras, and one from each of the following groups — Dalit, Bania, Khatri, Parsi, Christian. The caste of Bhupen Hazarika, the last recipient, could not be located from any source. Of the four women Bharat Ratna awardees, three are Brahmins and one Christian. It goes to suggest that without Brahmins, who comprise about 4 per cent of India’s population, perhaps this country would not have had enough people worthy to be awarded the Bharat Ratna.

Does the list of recipients tell us that the Indian State has practised an unbiased, honest, caste-free selection of Ratnas from the dust of India? The dust of the nation mainly consists of Shudras, Dalits and Adivasis. With more than half of Indian population comprising Shudras, only three could be found worthy of Bharat Ratna in more than 66 years of the award’s history; of the 18 per cent Dalits, just one — Dr B.R. Ambedkar; and of the 7 per cent Adivasis, none.

Vallabhai Patel was recognised as a Ratna only in 1991, along with Rajiv Gandhi. Before Patel, only two Shudras were awarded Bharat Ratna — K. Kamaraj  and M.G. Ramachandran (both former chief ministers of Tamil Nadu).


Also read: Modi govt set to give Bharat Ratna to Pranab Mukherjee in the middle of Lok Sabha polls


Political choices 

The Bharat Ratna started being awarded in 1954. That year, three living Brahmins — C. Rajagopalachari, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and C.V. Raman — were recognised. All three of them, in their sixties, were still relatively young.  And hailed from Tamil Nadu.

The federal government never established any principles based on which a Bharat Ratna could be selected or recognised from across the country.  Some were given the award when they were in a position to influence the selection. Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi got the Bharat Ratna when they were prime ministers. Some were awarded a long time after their death (Ambedkar in 1990 and Patel in 1991).

A semi-literate K. Kamaraj, from the Nadar community; C.V. Raman, a physicist; Amartya Sen with a PhD from a foreign university; and non-resident Indians Bharat Ratna winners’ list looks like the power in Delhi adopting a pick and choose method. Literary talents are not so significant. Many Bharat Ratna awardees have not written anything in their life. Who is selected for Bharat Ratna depends on the power in Delhi and not in the states. One could be a chief minister of a state for 34 years (Jyoti Basu) and not be considered as a Ratna of Bharat. And so, what makes someone eligible for India’s highest civilian award remains unknown  

At all times, though, it has been clear that the awardees are selected by the ruling political class depending on the person’s caste and on the political benefits the selection could reap for the government. Patel was recognised as a Bharat Ratna 41 years after his death; Ambedkar was recognised 34 four years after his death, when the government of V.P. Singh — one that believed in social justice — came to power in Delhi, in 1990. Chaudhary Charan Singh, an Uttar Pradesh Jat, despite all his peasant leadership and former prime minister status, could never get it.

In fact, both Ambedkar and Nelson Mandela, a leader of global stature who fought against apartheid and the liberation of Blacks in South Africa, were given the Bharat Ratna by the V.P. Singh government. But in all likelihood, V.P. Singh himself may never get the award, at least not until a pro-Mandal prime minister takes charge at the Centre. And this does not seem to be happening in the near future.


Also read: Drought-free Maharashtra, 1 crore jobs & Bharat Ratna for Savarkar in BJP’s poll manifesto


RSS-BJP exploiting flaws

Successive Congress governments played Brahminical politics in the name of secularism, pluralism and diversity. Now, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are brazenly playing casteist politics because they believe in the varna dharma (hierarchical system) and parampara (tradition). Just what happened to social diversity and plurality that is often talked about in the context of Hindutva communalism?

If we look at the list of Bharat Ratna awardees after the RSS-mentored BJP gained control of the federal government in 1999 and then again since 2014, except Bismillah Khan and Bhupen Hazarika (both musicians), Bharat discovered only Brahmin Ratnas — from Gopinath Bordoloi to Nanaji Deshmukh. The shift from the Congress party’s ‘secular’ Brahmin Ratna picks to the RSS/BJP’s Hindutva Brahmin Ratna picks has some ideological dimension. Caste and ideology both are convergent and contending factors when it comes to picking Bharat Ratna. What remains constant is the Brahmin Ratna.

So far, no Communist, whether Brahmin, Muslim or Christian, has been awarded the Bharat Ratna. During the entire Congress rule, Indian Communists held a strong secular umbrella over the party’s head but none from that camp was considered worthy of the prize. Even Ram Manohar Lohia, despite being a prominent national leader hailing from the powerful Bania community, was never considered for the award.

Of course, we cannot imagine this will change in the RSS-BJP era.


Also read: Identity, music & Bhupen Hazarika: The man who united Assam, talked inclusivity


The long list of denials

Brahminisation of the Bharat Ratna started with the first selection in 1954. If modern Indians who contributed to the Indian Renaissance and socio-educational reform of the country were considered eligible, then Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Jyotirao Phule and Narayana Guru should have got the award. M.K. Gandhi’s name was avoided after it was held that he was above the award. To this day, no Adivasi has received the Bharat Ratna. Why? We do not know. Birsa Munda and Komaram Bheem were never seen as worthies, just as no OBC has so far been. BP Mandal, who wrote the Mandal Commission Report, is never seen as a Bharatiya worthy of the award.

The Congress alienated the most powerful Shudras, who subsequently launched regional parties and became anti-Congress in so many ways. The list of Bharat Ratna is one indicator of their alienation. The RSS-BJP today are doing the same thing and justifying it using the same logic.

This brings us to the argument of the Dwija intellectuals that caste should not be the basis for any selection in a democratic, secular republic. But the Dwijas never saw caste when 29 Brahmins, four Kayasthas, one Bania and one Khatri got the Bharat Ratna award. Most names are picked from the freedom movement, as if it was a Dwija movement.

No nation can progress with this kind of high-end casteism. The Bharat Ratna awardee list does not show any social inclusiveness or diversity at all. The Congress’ inclusiveness was confined to only accommodating Muslims. The party grossly neglected Shudras/OBCs/Dalits and Adivasis.

The tendency to promote high-class politicians but not regional and local forces created a huge caste and community gap. The second channel of promotion in the awarding of Bharat Ratna — cinema and music — are also Dwija-dominated areas. But today, caste consciousness has reached a different level in India. Everything is being watched. New interpretations of caste are underway not only in India but globally too. Will things change in the future? We can only hope.

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist and author. Views are personal.

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38 Comments Share Your Views

38 COMMENTS

  1. Now the Brahmins have left no room for doubt, for they have
    propounded a most mischievous dogma, which the Brahmins have spread
    among the masses, is the dogma of the infallibility of the Vedas. If the
    Hindu intellect has ceased to grow and if the Hindu civilization and
    culture has become a stagnant and stinking pool, this dogma must
    be destroyed root and branch if India is to progress. The Vedas are a
    worthless set of books. There is no reason either to call them sacred or
    infallible. The Brahmins have invested it with sanctity and infallibility
    only because by a later interpolation of what is called the Purusha —
    Sukta, the Vedas have made them the lords of the Earth. Nobody has had the courage to ask why these worthless books which contain nothing
    but invocation to tribal Gods to destory the Enemies, loot their property
    and give it to their followers (have been made sacred and infallible). But
    the time has come when the Hindu mind must be freed from the hold*
    which the silly ideas propagated by the Brahmins, have on them. Without
    this liberation India has no future. I have undertaken this task knowing
    full well what risk* it involves. I am not afraid of the consequences. I
    shall be happy if I succeed in stirring the masses.

    B.R Ambedkar
    Introduction to Riddles in Hinduism

  2. What crap is this!!! Seriously, The Print? You are asking for money to read this nonsense, where the author is indeed sad that he couldn’t find the caste of one of the Bharat Ratna Awardee?

  3. What kind of crap is this journalist writing? I am no Brahmin but belong to Shudra caste albeit a powerful one from Andhra. PV and SPB were doyens of their time . They surely deserve the award . On the other hand no one ever has heard of people this author is talking about. May be they deserve it too., but bringing a caste bias is the height of bigotry I have seen . Surely, this paper can avoid this kind of writing .

  4. Couldn’t hide your love for communists? Could you? Why so much hate for Brahmins? Oh and your viewpoint of seeing everything from the prism of caste is an utter nonsense. People like this author are a curse to the nation. And then you cry when someone calls you Urban naxal. You are just spreading hate nothing else.

  5. Then kancha sheperd should get bharath ratna for writing casteist bigotry contents 🤣🤣
    People like you were busy doing casteism and brahmins were working for the nations

  6. Give me 1 reason a converted ricebag most likely on payroll of CIA and full of hatred for Hindus in their own homeland should be tolerated.

  7. Mr Shephard,
    One thing I agree with you is that lot of undeserved Bharat Ratnas are in the list. but what I have issue with your piece of writing is this
    M K Gandhi? you omitted “Mahatma” title that world gave him I know you wanted him to be as common as everybody. That itself shows your disdain for anything Indian greatness. by the way you know why communist don’t get Bharat Ratna, they don’t like idea of India .

  8. Ok so this is another angle of BS as if the bhakt, liberal, sickular, minority appeasment, hindutva rights advocates, these are not enough, we have one more cry baby who is talking of discrimination. what a crazy world it has become. i have a question to the writer–do you sleep every day thinking about this, how do you ever get sleep with so much negativity. or is this just a showoff

  9. ”The Congress’ inclusiveness was confined to only accommodating Muslims. The party grossly neglected Shudras/OBCs/Dalits and Adivasis.” Congress was following this opportunistic policies which is now carried over by the BJP.

  10. Print you ain’t getting any support ffrom me for spreading hate through such shoddy journalism. Did you get this writer in some nut house?

  11. As a journalist you should be ashamed of yourself. Try winning a Pulitzer basis this article. Moron! It is people like you who spread hate in this country.

  12. no dalit member in the article in present days have been mentioned by the author so now heshould first highlight the achievements of dalit activisit whom he consider fir for the award and then debate rather then bringing caste to every thing

  13. I thought ThePrint was above all this casteism ideology. I like it because it is genuinely seculsr, unlike many other avenues. I am therefore surprised (shocked I feel is too strong a word at this moment) to see this article showcasing blatant casteism.

  14. If Rajiv Gandhi can get bharat ratna then anyone can get it. PV NARASIMHA RAO and SP BALASUBRAHMANYAM are million times better then Rajiv Gandhi.

  15. Why do you provide a platform for him? He is a person who sees misery in everything and will die never knowing what grace or goodness is. Such a miserable creature!

  16. All over the world paedophiles priest have been found .

    The only exception is INDIA.

    CAN it be true.

    OR have people who have converted cannot dare bring out the truth as this may affect proselytizing activities.

    CAN you confirm or deny.

  17. Horrible bringing caste into every issue just denotes the negative non progressive mindset, nothing else, leave alone merits of the issue.

  18. Let us add reservation to Bharat Ratna. In-fact we should have reservations to everything in India . Just keep one Caveat. People who opt for reservations will be treated by only those doctors who became doctors by reservation and will be educated only by those teachers who became teachers by reservation . Case closed. Everyone should be happy!

    • Reservation without any caveat is the demand. Why should it rattle you when world over people are asking for equal women representation in every walk of life. If half the population is shudhra, dont you think there contributions have been overlooked or they contributed nothing worthy at all !!

    • They can also be treated by those who got admission by donation and became doctor, mostly upper caste as they can only pay such vast sums of money.

  19. This writer is an imbecile. Bhart Ratna is not granted for taking birth in a caste. It is also not awarded on the basis of caste-representation. It is also not freely distributed based on the popularity of someone who died recently or long back. It certainly cannot be awarded to someone like Jyoti Basu, who hung on to power for 29 years, when Bengal saw no progress and became a backward State. This writer was not born after May 2014. I wonder why didn’t he write this when UPA and other secular governments were in power?

    This writer is toxic. His eyes are jaundiced by caste calculations. Please discourage such writers.

  20. Please Mr. Sheperd, can you also classify the awardees list by category of nepotism (i.e.:Being friendly friendly to the ruling elite of the day).

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