Look at the list of Padma award recipients this year. There is one 'cheat', one tannery owner, one extremist and one philanderer gracing the list. Who is this Sant Singh Chatwal? Why has he been awarded Padma Bhushan? What did our president and prime minister find so extraordinary in them to give them the celebrated civilian awards?
Sant Singh Chatwal is known as a cheat in India and a businessman in USA. Now we can presume that this is the ultimate cheating by Chatwal. As per CBI and police records, Sant Singh Chatwal is a "proclaimed offender". The CBI hunted him for 14 years as "one of the most wanted criminals." India requested the USA to arrest him and extradite him to India.
Earlier, when he was a budding criminal he was arrested with his better half at Mumbai on February 2, 1997 and sent to jail on charges of cheating a bank. Once again he cheated Bank of India in India of Rs 28.32 crores and Bank of India New York branch of billions of dollars. The CBI filed charge-sheets against him in several cases but before they could prosecute him Sardar Manmohan Singh came to power and things changed their course. Now Chatwal is the proud recipient of a Padma Bhushan. Earlier he had been bestowed the Rajiv Gandhi Award, a private award instituted by Sardar Charan Singh Sapra, a Mumbai-based businessman and vice president of state Congress. The Rajiv Gandhi Awards were later abandoned on the behest of Priyanka Gandhi.
The character of our government is as mysterious as of Chatwal. The Government of India has mysteriously withdrawn all cases against him and restrained CBI from filing any charge-sheet against him. Now, hopefully we must wait till the next occasion when Ottavio Quattrocchi will probably be getting Padma Bhushan for greasing the Bofors gun supply deal and thereby coming to the support of Indian defence. Probably the decision-maker and the decision-taker for these awards felt impressed by characters like Chatwal, Saif or any Mirza, but we must not keep quiet as this is grave injustice against persons like Dawood Ibrahim, Abdul Kareem Telgi and the departed soul of Harshad Mehta. We are culturally accursed to reward "Vibhishans" and now Afzal Guru who has been praying to the President for pardon, has reasons to feel optimistic for he too could be considered to have done 'distinguished service to the Nation' as per the value system prevalent in the PMO.
The list of awardees who have done "such a distinguished service to the Nation" includes Saif Ali Khan who has been awarded only Padm Shri . His 'achievements' do not need as deep a research as for Chatwal. Saif Ali Khan and his father, a famous cricketer Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi were found ineligible to retain even a gun licence as they had indulged in crime. So their gun licences issued by Gurgaon administration were cancelled. Saif had killed a black deer and faces prosecution in other cases too. He had abandoned his previous wife Amrita and a minor child. Apart from his criminal antecedent we all have seen him flirting with Kareena Kapoor in a hyped pre-marital relationship which offends Indian ethos and basic tenets of our culture.
Another recipient of Padma Shri is Ghulam Mohammad Mir. He is from Jammu and Kashmir. His "distinguished service" finds mention nowhere except in police record. According to police record he was a terrorist, a proclaimed offender, tried for several heinous cases including mine blast, extortion and kidnapping.
Another recipient of Padma Shri needs a special mention. Unlike the earlier two examples, he is not a polluter of society but of environment. Mirza Irshad is a known expert in the tannery business and is one of the top leather exporters. His firm is one of the prime polluting units of Kanpur which is discredited as a major contributor to pollution in the Ganga. The tannery lobby at Kanpur had the last laugh at the end of the day of 26 January this year when Mirza procured the award. He is the man representing the trade.
There are 402 polluting tanneries in Kanpur out of which 220 were found extremely polluting the environment in general and Ganga in particular. It remains to be seen how the anti-pollution laws are enforced now. There is a long list of such tainted men. Is it a case of "birds of the same feather flocking together?" When the award itself is abused, we too have a right to abuse the awardees.
(Published in By-Line National Weekly News Magazine (Hindi & English) - in February 13, 2010 Issue)