When the whole nation was on breaking news edge due to the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar, one of the two greatest cricketers of modern times (Lara inarguably being the other one), news flashed that Sachin had been awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award. While the nation was enraptured by the news, some people did put paid to the early celebrations. For example, Senior Janata Dal (United) leader Shivanand Tiwari severely criticized the system for offering the award to Tendulkar by commenting in media, “The Bharat Ratna has become a joke. It should be abolished. It has no significance now. Tendulkar has not played cricket for free. He has earned thousands of crores.“Not that the logic he offered mattered, but what is notable about Tendulkar getting the award is that he has become the youngest recipient of the award till date; and of course, the first and only sportsperson to ever be conferred the award. The question then is – for whatever it’s worth – will this open the gates for other willow warriors and sportspersons?
Not many know that until mid-2011, the official criteria for awarding the Bharat Ratna in a way restricted any sportsperson from receiving the award. The award used to be conferred “for the highest degrees of national service. This service includes artistic, literary, and scientific achievements, as well as recognition of public service of the highest order.” Evidently, brandishing bats or attempting long jumps couldn't possibly be considered as public service of the highest order. In December 2011, the Government of India amended the criteria and confirmed that the award could be conferred even “for performance of highest order in any field of human endeavour.” In other words, in one sweeping move, the government included all the Guinness and Limca record holders as prospects for future Bharat Ratnas, and of course, sportspersons too. So since 2011, Olympic gold medallist Dhyan Chand, Olympic gold medallist shooter Abhinav Bindra, mountaineer Tenzing Norgay have been some others whose names have been proposed for the award.
But the honour finally went to Sachin, and not to the man in Rajasthan who holds the record for having the longest moustache for quite a few years. Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily stated in media, “What is wrong with honouring Sachin, when the entire nation was backing him?” Backing him for the Bharat Ratna?! One can safely say that less than a handful of Indians would have even known that Tendulkar was nominated for the award, leave alone backing him to get the award. Then, is the Ratna about brand recall? Then why not get the nation’s vote on who should be given the Bharat Ratna every year, if it were only about how many people in the nation back you? Perhaps another Bharat Ratna awardee, Lata Mangeshkar put it more plausibly, “Whatever he (Sachin) has done for the country, very few people can.”
Clearly, the question is not about why Sachin was awarded; but about the fact that it's about time a sportsperson's achievements were recognised. One would hope that this award now paves the way for other sportspersons too to get the award. If we really want the Indian youth to be inspired, then giving Sachin the Ratna is a great start – and you know what, one doesn't even need to justify the reasons to award the legend called Sachin.