Why Padma awards 2020 is a bag of BJP government's carefully picked surprises

Abhijit Majumder

In January 2005, a phone call from the Congress 'high command' made the governor of Goa cancel his trip home to Nagaland and return to Panaji.

He then signed an order dismissing the BJP-led Goa government minutes after it was elected in a trust vote. The then Goa chief minister had to step down, and a very bitter BJP took matters to the Supreme Court.

In January 2020, then Goa governor SC Jamir and then Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar are reunited, albeit metaphorically, in a happy twist of history. Both have been awarded Padma Bhushan, with Parrikar getting it posthumously.

For the government, giving a Padma to Parrikar, the former defence minister and one of BJP's tallest leaders, is unsurprising. What stands out is the award to Jamir. He is a Congress stalwart from the North East, one of BJP's most vocal critics, and a man whose grandfather was instrumental in bringing Christianity to Nagaland with American missionary Edwin W Clark.

The other remarkable inclusion in the Padma list is PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig, not long after BJP's acrimonious fallout with his party, scrapping of Article 370 and the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir.

It is bold of the BJP to reward its opponents (NCP chief Sharad Pawar had got a Padma too). However, it is also a strong political signal to non-BJP leaders in the North East. And perhaps a nudge to Baig to wrest party control from his boss Mehbooba Mufti.

The Padma list pours cold water on the narrative-building in the last two months about Modi government being hell-bent on sending India's Muslims to detention camps.

In Padma awards, the contributions of Muslims have been celebrated across the spectrum and in almost every field. From Pakistan-born Indian-naturalised singer Adnan Sami to 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy activist Abdul Jabbar to Mohamed Sharif who performed the last rites €" irrespective of their religion €" of more than 25,000 unclaimed bodies in and around Faizabad, it is an elaborate tribute to stellar work.

Take, for example, differently-abled activist Javed Ahmed Tak from Anantnag, who has been working with differently-abled children for two decades. Or Munna Master, a bhajan singer from a traditional Muslim family, whose book Shri Shyam Surabhi Vandana is locally quite popular.

And while the government is resolved to stop illegal immigration from Bangladesh, two of that nation's sons €" late diplomat Syed Muazzem Ali and archaeologist Enamul Hassan €" have been awarded India's highest civilian awards.

A clear message that we deeply respect your talent, but please carry a visa.

Under the government, Padma has transformed to people's awards.

More than 46,000 nominations were received this year: an over 20-fold rise from 2,200 nominations in 2014. Nearly 41,000 Indians took the time and effort to register themselves on the Padma website, fill out detailed questionnaires to nominate heroes from among themselves.

Technology propelled the process: An interactive website, user-friendly dashboard and an intense social media campaign.

Then each nominee was evaluated through rounds of quality check, scrutiny and expert consultation.

From this massive churn have emerged unknown heroes like Trinity Saioo from Meghalay's Jaintia Hills who led 800 women to cultivate high-curcumin Lakadong variety of turmeric, or Arunoday Mondal, the Bengal doctor who travels six hours every weekend to Sunderbans to treat more than 250 poor patients free of charge.

The Padma list is a glimpse into an India which many of us are entirely unfamiliar with. An India which works selflessly, tirelessly towards our civilisational credo €" 'Sarve bhavantu sukhinah/ Sarve santu niraamaysiah' (may all be happy, may illness touch none) €" without caring for awards or recognition.

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