We want to know who the jury is!
No one knows who the men and women are who decide on the national awards. It’s a well guarded secret. Snigdha wrote and asked me whether I knew who comprised these jury panels, she wanted to know if there was a bias. No amount of digging could yield an answer. The nearest I got to it was this article:
Apparently, a top-secret committee meets to vet nominations. A tentative list is sent to the Home Minister and, then, to the Prime Minister. There is — almost by definition — no transparency to the process. Nobody knows who made the decisions and none of the judges are ever held accountable.
Lobbying, Bribing and Begging for awards
The result of the lack of transparency is inevitable. People lobby for awards, they bribe to get awards and they beg to get awards. And when there are two deserving candidates, but one is a member of the ruling party, you can guess who the award will go to. It happened this year. The country second highest award, The Padma Vibhushan went to the functioning and senior most Finance Minister – Pranab Mukherjee. I am not saying he didn’t deserve it, but it’s like the government giving an award to itself. If a committee independent of the government had given him the award, it would have carried more authority.
The kind of lobbying that people do to get awards is explained well in this article. An excerpt:
What started in 1950 as a serious attempt to honour achievers in various fields has now increasingly become the preserve of…sycophants and flatterers…(even) artistes are known to lobby hard for these awards…you have cases like a former headmaster getting it when an ex-student is PM, or the wife of a favoured bureaucrat being awarded for social service…When it comes to loyalists, even the unwritten rule of keeping a gap of 10 years between two Padma awards is not followed…(and) the bottomline has not changed: anyone who opposes the government of the day does not get an award.
Something to make us all squirm. Something to make the genuine, deserving award winner squirm.
The Bharat Ratna circus
Take the Bharat Ratna. India’s highest civilian award awarded “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.” But, it wasn’t awarded this year. And it hasn’t been awarded for quite a few years because of a fear of controversy. What didn’t help was that various politicians were trying to get the Bharat Ratna awarded to their own party honchos. The lucky ones with the fan following ranged from Vajpayee , Kanshi Ram , Mulayam Singh , the late Chaudhury Charan Singh and Chandrashekhar  Politicians all. A shame, because some deserving person could have got it if people hadn’t made such a circus out of it!
Maybe they should just scrap the BR. Dragging it through the muck like this is like dragging India’s name through the mud.
Even if the jury names are announced, justice is not ensured
Film award juries are usually known but that doesn’t mean the process is fair. There was a controversy over which film to send to the Oscars. Dharm or Eklavya. When Eklavya was sent (it didn’t even win a nomination finally) it created a stink because one of the jury members were close to the person who made Eklavya. The Oscar committee heard about it, the whole world heard about it. I don’t think anyone doubted that Dharm was the better film. I have not seen Dharm but I have seen Eklavya, which was at best an average film. Amazing that it was even considered. Dharm on the other hand had already won another international award but it wasn’t selected to go to the Oscars.
Knowing who the jury members are seems to make the stink worse. The Film Federation of India (FFI) had nominated the jury but they did not tell the other members of the jury that one of their fellows was associated with the makers of Eklavya. As this was not known, the member was allowed to vote and finally Eklavya won by a margin of one vote. Wonder why the FFI (a government organisation) allowed this? Pressure? Bribe? Lobbying? Friendship?
Where civilian honours are concerned, where one has no idea who the jury is, it makes one suspect that there is no jury at all…or simply a fraud jury.
The problem stems from the fact that there is no transparency in the jury selection process. While some jury members have the requisite merit to judge films, there are always a few faces which surprise everyone by their inclusion. As a result, we have seen members walking out of the jury, allegations of lackeys of politicians, particularly of the I&B minister of the day, getting selected to the jury because of their qualification of being ‘social workers’ or some such thing…
Sports awards have also been tainted
Shooter Anjali Bhagwat had accused the Arjuna Awards committee for “nominating athlete K M Beenamol a few years ago for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award ahead of her, saying its decision showed that performance alone is not the criteria for the award.”
Defense Awards are more honest
Defense awards seem to be most free of controversy. Bravery awards like the PVC (Param Vir Chakra) and the MVC (Maha Vir Chakra) are seen to be clean. Vir Sanghavi writes:
We don’t usually give a Param Vir Chakra to a general. Neither do we give it to a soldier for mere bravery — courage is part of his job description.
It is in fact given for extraordinary bravery, when an army man goes beyond the call of duty. You can read one example here at the Bharat Rakshak site (he happens to be my uncle).
The way forward
What needs to be done to bring back the good name of our awards is best summed up by Professor Romila Thapar, one of India’s best historians:
The procedures for these awards should be systematised and made more transparent. We should know who is consulted when names are considered, what the procedure is in taking a decision, and who decides. If the names of the members of these committees are known, that would add to the prestige of the award. Those listed for awards should be consulted just prior to the finalisation of the list. This would save considerable embarrassment on both sides when awards are declined.
Here is a list of those who have turned down government awards, and it’s a long list!
(Acknowledgments: Thanks to Snigdha for asking me to write about this. Pictures are from government of India sites.)