This year’s Independence Day is witnessing unusual speculation about who will be the recipients for the nation’s highest national award, the Bharat Ratna. Several names have reportedly been short listed including those of Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
The government wants belatedly to confer this honour to Netaji. But the historic icon’s family members pleaded with the media and authorities not to promote Netaji’s name for this honour. They said that Netaji like Mahatma Gandhi was above the category of such awards. They were being tactful. They meant that it was demeaning to bracket Netaji’s name with some of the recipients of Bharat Ratna. Sure enough it was later stated that giving the award to Netaji after Rajiv Gandhi had received it was unthinkable. They said that if the government really wanted to honour the memory of Netaji it should declassify all the archival papers related to him in order to make history transparent. This view deserves respect.
Because of irrationally taken decisions this writer had years ago dismissed Bharat Ratna awards as being valueless. He was disgusted by the ugly inconsistency of the authorities who selected the recipients, not because of injustice done to any national leader, but to an artist. On this Independence Day it is relevant to point out what I wrote on September 2006. I recalled the insult to the memory of another great icon in the world of music. That insult continues to persist without being addressed till this day.
Pandit Omkarnath Thakur was a living legend among the north Indian classical vocalists of his day. The late Mallikarjun Mansur, a great maestro himself, said in one interview: “Omkarnath (was) something special, unlike everybody else.” Taught by Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, founder of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya School of music, Omkarnath also studied the music of a mystic singer, Rehmat Ali Khan from whom he learnt the dramatic use of silence in his compositions. Omkarnath performed before the King of Afghanistan in Kabul and before Mussolini in Italy. Beniamino Gigli, the world's foremost tenor of that time, heard Omkarnath and described him as the greatest voice in the world.
OOn August 15, 1947, at midnight before Nehru announced his tryst with destiny, Omkarnath Thakur sang Vande Mataram in Parliament House to literally herald India’s Independence. Such was his nationwide esteem. MS Subbulakshmi, a legend in Karnataka music, was to sing Meera Bai’s bhajans in North Indian mode for a film. She sought Omkarnath’s guidance. Subbulakshmi of course richly deserved the Bharat Ratna given to her. So did Lata Mangeshkar. Earlier in 1955 Omkarnath had humbly accepted the lowest award, the Padma Shri. Subsequently scores of minions, including journalists, have received Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan awards.
On September 25, 2006 I wrote: “If the government cannot upgrade his award, can it not cancel it?” Today, we remember Vande Mataram. We forget Omkarnath who immortalized it in song. Should not the government end the insult to the memory of Omkarnath?