Among the seminal changes ushered in by the Narendra Modi regime since being voted to power in 2014 has been in the criteria behind the selection of Padma awardees on Republic Day. Even a casual scrutiny of the backgrounds of recipients will reveal that the stress has been on giving recognition to simpler, humbler people with an intrinsic grassroot connect.
Ordinary citizens contributing in diverse ways to the preservation of Bhartiyata have got their comeuppance regardless of their identity and political loyalties. The general impression that lobbying with the incestuous Left-Liberal circuit dominated by NGOs and human rights bodies of a certain political hue play a key role in getting the Padma has undergone a radical change.
Take the case of this year’s Padma Shri awardee Ramzan Khan, alias Munna Master, a Muslim who sings Ram-Krishna bhajans. A resident of Jaipur, 61-year-old Munna hails from a clan which has been earning its livelihood crooning the divine glories of the two foremost gods in the Hindu pantheon. Significantly, he is also a gau bhakt (cow devotee) who not only spends hours in gaushalas (cow pen) everyday caring for its inmates but also does not eat a morsel without first feeding a member of the bovine specie. Munna, in fact, was belting out a Krishna bhajan at a cow shelter when informed he was among the R-Day awardees.
Not many may be aware that Ramzan is the father of Firoze, the Khan who was in the thick of a recent controversy surrounding his appointment as lecturer in the Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vigyan (SVDV) faculty of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU). Students went on a round the clock sit-in to protest his selection on the plea that a Muslim was unqualified to lecture them on Vedic matters just as a Hindu was unsuited to initiate prospective mullahs on the deeper aspects of the Koran.
Proffered was the argument, and rightly, that the protest was not against the teaching of Sanskrit by a Muslim — which is what the misguided Lutyens media had us believe. On the contrary they were more than welcome to teach the grammar and philosophy of the ancient language, the right platform for which was the Sanskrit department of the varsity’s Arts faculty. The SVDV, on its part, was exclusively focused on helping students ingest the spiritual aspects of Sanatan Dharma, a standalone Hindu preserve. Though the face-off continued for long, circumstances compelled the BHU authorities to shift Firoze to the Arts faculty.
Another significant choice for the Padma is 80-year-old Faizabad based cycle mechanic Mohammad Sharif who has devoted the last 27 years of his life to ensure that unclaimed corpses are cremated or buried after proper religious rites. Well over 25,000 cadavers have so far have been bidden farewell at his behest. Chacha Sharif, as he is popularly known, has been ferrying his push cart to cremation/burial grounds ever since the body of his son was found partly devoured by animals in the vicinity of a railway track in 1992.
Among the most praiseworthy and deserved is the posthumous Padma for Abdul Jabbar, the social activist who resigned his job with a Tata group company in Dewas after losing both his parents and brother in the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy. Jabbar spent the rest of his life securing courtly justice to help rehabilitate families whose kin either died after inhaling the toxic fumes released from the Union Carbide plant or suffered lifelong damage to health from its after affects. The vocational training organized by his organization, the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Sangathan, helped more than 2000 women stand on their own legs. In retrospect it is surprising how successive secular governments both at the Centre and Jabbar’s home state, Madhya Pradesh, never thought of recommending a Padma for their beloved “Jabbar bhai” as he was known to friends.
A Padma Vibhushan for octogenarian Pandit Chhannulal Mishra, the iconic classical singer of the Banarasi gharana, drove home the message that his talent remains the rarest of the rare, and his role in furthering Bharatiya tradition and culture exceptional. Pandit ji was given the Padma Bhushan in 2010, but many felt he deserved much more. There are not many classical singers with an equal mastery over the entire gamut of light classical genres like khayal, dadra, thumri, chaiti, kajri, sawani, holi, besides bhajan. His rendition of Kabir, and portions of the Ramcharitmanas will be remembered over ages.
Implicit in the awards to Munna Master and Sharif in the message that the government has no bias against Muslims in the mainstream. Not all the poison being spewed from Shaheen Bagh and other platforms of Muslim radicals and their backers will make the slightest difference to the government’s determined bid to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in letter and spirit.
That the anti-CAA protests are being funded by organizations like the Popular Front of India (PFI) whose anti-national agenda has never been a secret is clear from the revelation of the Enforcement Directorate that about Rs 120 crore were deposited and subsequently withdrawn from a clutch of bank accounts linked to PFI just before the commencement of the agitation.
Extreme provocation notwithstanding, the Modi regime remains committed in its efforts to keep the nation united and ward off compounded threats from its internal enemies. This is the real message of the R-Day awards.
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