By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Jun 4 (IANS): The President of India's Secretariat has no information on the nominations or recommendations made by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) for the conferment of the country's highest civilian award, the 'Bharat Ratna', for the past 23 years, according to a reply by it to a RTI query.
The RTI query was initiated by Pune businessman Prafful Sarda seeking the list of the eminent persons recommended for the Bharat Ratna by all the Prime Ministers from 2000-2023.
He also sought additional details on the communication or recommendations by the successive PMs, for conferring the Bharat Ratna posthumously on the revolutionary Vinayak Damodar Savarkar aka Swatantryaveer Savarkar.
"The President's Secretariat replied on May 22 that "no such information is available", and they even transferred my application to the PMO which is the nodal department and custodian of the records in the matter," said Sarda.
The response came from deputy secretary Rubina Chauhan from the RTI Section of the President's Secretariat in Rashtrapati Bhavan.
As the applicant waited, on May 29 the PMO replied that they have 'transferred' the query to the ministry of home affairs, which reverted that "no such information is available" with them and they passed it onto the nodal department and the custodian of the records in the matter.
"Its unclear what or which is this 'nodal department' and who is the 'custodian' or of which department… A simple query on the recommendations for Bharat Ratna to the President made by the PMs in the past 23 years remains largely unanswered," said Sarda.
He said that in 2000, the President was K. R. Narayanan followed by President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam Azad, President Pratibha Patil, President Pranab Mukherjee, President R. N. Kovind and currently, President Droupadi Murmu.
Interestingly, during the same period (2000-2023), the country has had only three PMs - Atal Behari Vajpayee, Dr Manmohan Singh and the current incumbent, Narendra Modi.
The three PMs have recommended just 11 Bharat Ratnas in 23 years, out of only 48 personalities accorded the honour since 1954.
They include, according to official records, the legendary playback singer late Lata Mangeshkar and 'shehnai' exponent Ustad Bismillah Khan.
The Bharat Ratna went to classical singer Pt. Bhimsen Joshi (2009), followed by scientist C. N. R. Rao and cricket maestro Sachin Tendulkar (2014), political leaders Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya and Atal Behari Vajpayee (2015), politician Pranab Mukherjee, singer Pt. Bhupen Hazarika and social activist Chandikadas Amritrao alias Nanaji Deshmukh (2019).
Shiv Sena (UBT) Deputy Leader Dr. Raghunath Kuchik is miffed by the RTI revelations, and said his party has been consistently raising the demand for the Bharat Ratna for Swatantryaveer Savarkar from the days of the late Balasaheb Thackeray.
"However, now it seems that no Bharatiya Janata Party PM ever made any formal/official recommendation for this despite being in power for over 15 years… This includes the tenures of PM Modi and the late PM Vajyapee. All the cacophony in the name of Swatantryaveer Savarkar is political. The BJP is not at all serious on the issue," rued Kuchik.
Nevertheless, Sarda finds it 'strange' that the PMO has forwarded his straightforward query to the MHA, which probably may have little or no role in the Bharat Ratna award process that is the domain of the PM.