It is believed that Nobel Prize for Literature would have been conferred on Upendra Bhanja and Fakirmohan Senapati had they been born outside Odisha. Though there is no match to the literary talent of Kabisamrat and Vyasakabi, their glory remained confined mostly to Odisha.
However, things are now changing. People like Haladhar Nag, Jitendra Haripal, Daitari Naik, Kamala Pujari and D Prakash Rao are getting recognition at the national level. Thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his close associates from Odisha.
Even a tea stall owner, a village singer or a tribal woman engaged in cultivation in a remote corner of the state is also getting the honour. Never before did ten Odia people receive the coveted Padma award in one single year.
The Padma awards are given in three categories since 1955: Padma Vibhushan (for exceptional and distinguished service), Padma Bhushan (distinguished service of higher order) and Padma Shri (distinguished service). The award seeks to recognize achievements in all fields of activities involving public service. The awards are conferred on the recommendations made by the Padma Awards Committee, which is constituted by the Prime Minister every year. The nomination process is open to the public. Even an organization can recommend a name.
The Government of India initially instituted two civilian awards -Bharat Ratna and Padma Vibhushan in 1954. The latter had three classes namely Pahela Varg, Dusra Varg and Tisra Varg. These were subsequently renamed as Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri with Presidential Notification issued on January 8, 1955.
In the last 65 years since the Padma awards were instituted, only 87 people from Odisha have been honoured. This includes 72 persons getting Padma Shri, 12 Padma Bhushan and only 3 receiving Padma Vibhushan.
Interestingly, when only 51 people from the state got Padma Shri from 1955 until 2004, as many as 21 persons from the state received Padma Shri in the last seven years. This year, Padma Bhushan has been conferred on an eminent writer, Manoj Das. Mr.Modi’s perception of the talents from Odisha has changed the scene.
One should ponder over the fact that while 51 people got recognition in over 59 years, 21 Odias have received Padma Shri only in the last seven years. This difference speaks for itself. The contribution of the people of Odisha, till now continued to be ignored, now received due recognition.
Thanks to P K Misra, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister and Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who put up sincere efforts to raise the status of Odias at the national level.
It is often said that Odias fail at the national level due to the lack of lobby and networking. Had Modi Government not recognized Haladhar Nag, Kamala Pujari and Jitendra Haripal, they would not have been recognized till date. The list of Padma recipients is now loaded with Odias because their names are now picked up by decision makers.
Before 2014, most of the 50 odd people who received the honour, belonged to the elite class. After 2014, the list included common people -- Batakrushna Sahoo (Animal Husbandry), Mitrabhanu Gountia (Art), Ustav Charan Das (Art), to name a few. A veteran woman writer like Binapani Mohanty, who does not believe in any kind of lobby, also got the Padma Shri award this time.
The difference between the scene then and now is that people having no lobby and coming from poor background also get recognition along with the elite class. This is a positive trend. It may be mentioned here that only five persons (Raghunath Panigrahi, Ignesh Tirkey 2010, Minati Mishra 2012, Taraprasad Das, Kailash Chandra Meher 2013) got Padma Shri during Atal Bihari Vajpyeee regime. However, Sitakant Mohapatra and Raghunath Mohapatra got Padma Vibhushan in 2011 and 2013 respectively. Only three Mohapatras -- Kelucharan, Sitakant and Raghunath -- have received the Padma Vibhushan awards.
One should also know how the Padma Awards are bestowed on persons. All nominations received for awards are placed before the Padma Awards Committee, which is constituted by the Prime Minister every year. The Padma Awards Committee is headed by the Cabinet Secretary and includes Home Secretary, Secretary to the President and four to six eminent persons as members.
The recommendations of the committee are submitted to the Prime Minister and the President of India for approval.
It is all right that 72 persons from Odisha have so far received Padma Shri, 12 people got Padma Bhushan and 3 Padma Bibhushan. But what pains the people of Odisha is that no one from the state has seriously been considered for the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award. Though there is no dearth of luminaries in the state, the selectors of the Bharat Ratna Committee, however, have missed them.
The name of former Chief Minister Biju Patnaik is often raised for the coveted Bharat Ratna award, but it has not received the attention it deserves.
There might be political reasons. A regional party named after Biju Patnaik has been ruling the state for the last 20 years and is still in power. That the political influence is evident from the fact that Biju Patnaik’s daughter Gita Mehta in 2019 humbly refused to receive the Padma Shri Award because her younger brother Naveen Patnaik was seeking votes. There may be political reasons for which the NDA Government is not considering the name of Biju Patnaik for the highest civilian honour.
However, the Union Government should not ignore the contribution of Utkalmani Pundit Gopabandhu Dash to the society. A close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, Gopabandhu is known as the ‘friend of the poor.’ There should not be any difficulty in bestowing Bharat Ratna on Gopabandhu Dash posthumously. Apart from Utkalmani, there are several others -- Utkal Gourav Madhusudan Das, Harekrushna Mahtab, Veer Surendra Sai, Buxi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar and many others whose names should be taken into consideration.
With the State Government enjoying a cordial relationship with the Union government, it is the right time to purse for the Bharat Ratna for someone from Odisha.