It has almost become a Padma awards leitmotif—alongside the many deserving names, there would be the ones that sorely stick out. While most in the latter crowd would, no doubt, be illustrious in their own right, the question whether their contributions to their respective fields, for which they are being honoured, are really worthy of a Padma recognition. Nowhere has this been more pronouced in recent years than in the Arts (cinema) category—some of the choices in recent years are downright baffling (Saif Ali Khan, Udit Narayan et al). This year, too, the list curiously figures Priyanka Chopra and Ajay Devgn. Sure, they are fine entertainers—whose craft has been honoured by the government before—but does their contribution to cinema qualify as consummate art? Besides, heavy with Bollywood artistes and directors (Madhur Bhandarkar, 2016), the Padma roster for Arts (cinema) of recent years seems to have not given enough attention to the doyens of regional cinema, except for the odd nod to the craft of a Mohanlal or the stardom of a Rajnikanth. Then, across categories, there are those for whom, it is clear enough, the honour came more because of their political association and leanings rather than their work. The Padmas have seldom been free from allegations of both lobbying by recipients and the ruling dispensation of the day rewarding staunch supporters.
In the process of (whimsically?) drafting the Padma roster every year, the government does great disservice to the many deserving candidates across fields—scientists, educationists, folk artists, sportspersons, social workers, business persons—who may not covet the Padma, but are far more deserving than some who have been honoured. This year’s Padma, though takes the cake for setting some kind of record on how far back in history you can reach to honour someone—Swami Dayanand Saraswati remains one of India’s foremost social reformers. But to confer the Padma Bhushan on him, 133 years after he passed away in 1883, seems a tad ludicrous. Who is to stop someone from calling for a Padma for an Ashoka or an Akbar next?