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26 Jan 2017

Padma in Pawar's pond - Subtle reminders of two surgical strikes in choices for honours

J.P. Yadav, TT, New Delhi, Jan. 25: The Narendra Modi government has sought to neutralise the usual charge of favouritism in the Padma awards by choosing Sharad Pawar and the late P.A. Sangma for the Padma Vibhushan, the country's second highest civilian honour.
Pawar, known for cultivating friendships across the political system, was among the first Opposition leaders to publicly hail Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his demonetisation drive, which has been described as a "surgical strike".
A month later, probably stung by reports of distress in farms, Pawar had tempered his stand by slamming the government for poor implementation.
Pawar has always been a friend in need for erstwhile adversaries, willing to forgive and forget their unkindest cuts.
A month after Modi had described Pawar's NCP as "Naturally Corrupt Party", the Maharashtra leader had announced his party's "unilateral" support to the BJP. In the middle of a hung verdict in the state, the BJP did not take Pawar's support but his stand helped the party drive a hard bargain with its belligerent ally, the Shiv Sena.
A common factor links Pawar and Sangma: both were senior Congressmen and had rebelled against Sonia Gandhi on the ground of her foreign origin.
The late Sangma, who had contested the presidential polls with the NDA's support against Pranab Mukherjee, is widely respected in the Northeast, a region where the BJP is making inroads.
The choice of Pawar and Sangma also helped the government justify two other nominees: Murli Manohar Joshi and the late Sunder Lal Patwa, both BJP veterans.
The choice of Joshi, the Kanpur MP who stands sidelined under the current dispensation, is being seen as an attempt to assuage him ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections.
Pawar, who has considerable clout in Maharashtra's sugar belt, dedicated the honour to the farmers of India and said: "This award means that the nation has recognised the work I have done in the field of agriculture over the last several decades in my political career."
The BJP held aloft his choice as a sign of bipartisanship. Maharashtra BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari said: "We do not accept Pawar's style of working and have differences of opinion in politics and that will continue. But, his contribution in politics and the agriculture sector, especially for sugarcane-growing farmers over the last 50 years, has been commendable."
Like most previous governments, some of those selected for the awards are associated with issues that reflect the government's pet themes and priorities.
  • Chamu Krishna Shastry, associated with the RSS-affiliated Samskrita Bharti, was given the Padma Shri for literature and education. Shastry was adviser on Sanskrit to the HRD ministry when it was headed by Smriti Irani. Another Sanskrit scholar, H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn from Thailand, was conferred the Padma Bhushan.
  • Michel Danino, a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), was awarded the Padma Shri. Danino's work on the mythical Saraswati river is hailed by the Sangh parivar. The BJP government in Haryana has allocated funds to revive the "lost river".
  • Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati of the Munger School of Yoga has been picked for the Padma Bhushan. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev will receive the Padma Vibhushan.
  • Akkitham Achyuthan Namboothiri, a respected poet, has been chosen for the Padma Shri. The poet from Kerala had supported Modi against a group of writers who had alleged an atmosphere of intolerance in 2015.
  • A government source said the stranglehold of Lutyens Delhi on the list had been broken. "On average, 24 persons were awarded each year from Delhi between 2005 and 2014. This year only five from Delhi have been chosen," the source said. Modi takes pride in the fact that he is an "outsider" in Delhi.
A category called "unsung heroes" has been introduced although the recipients are well known in their states. Gymnast Dipa Karmakar and two good Samaritans from Bengal, Bipin Ganatra and Karimul Haque, are on the list.

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