RSS ticks on Gandhi list


SOBHANA K.

New Delhi, May 20: State-sponsored awards have a habit of leaving the prize-givers with a headache.

The Gandhi Peace Prize, an honour named after the Father of the Nation and which carries a cash award of Rs 1 crore, has not been given since 2006 for various reasons.

The Centre is caught in a bit of a dilemma this time, too, because among the many names proposed is that of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Nothing prevents a social organisation from being given the prize. However, although the RSS has never accepted any association with Nathuram Godse, the great irony will not be lost on anyone if the organisation is chosen for an award named after Gandhi.

The RSS’s name was proposed by an MP, whose name sources declined to divulge because of the confidential nature of the selection process.

The problem for the UPA government, which normally should not have any qualms about overlooking the RSS, lies in the composition of the committee that picks the winner.

The final recipient is decided by a five-member jury that includes the leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, a post now held by the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj. The other members are the Prime Minister, who chairs the panel, the Chief Justice of India and two other eminent persons.

The Union culture ministry, which merely works as the administrative office, had recently forwarded a list with 65-odd names to the Prime Minister’s Office. This was the second list the ministry had sent.

“The list of nominations had been sent last year itself. The PMO had sent it back saying there were not enough nominations,” said a senior official.

The culture ministry then wrote to 1,500 individuals and institutes who can propose the names of potential recipients.

These include members of Parliament, heads of both the Houses, vice-chancellors of universities, heads of Gandhian trusts or research institutes and heads of Indian missions abroad. Heads of international peace organisations can also propose names.

The MP is thought to have proposed the RSS’s name during this round.

According to rules, the nomination for every year has to be finalised by April 30 and the award accorded by October 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday or Gandhi Jayanti.

Last year, too, the Centre had to grapple with one nomination — that of Anna Hazare. The ruling UPA was then locked in a battle of nerves with the activist. Since his name could not be rejected outright, the government tried to delay the process till matters cooled down a bit, the sources said.

This year’s April 30 deadline has already passed. The last time the honour was given was seven years ago — in 2005 — when it was conferred on South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu.

Among those who figure on the ministry’s revised list are former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Rajya Sabha MP Karan Singh, agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan, the late singer Bhupen Hazarika and Myanmarese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Past recipients include Julius Nyerere, the first President of Tanzania, in 1995, the first year the prize was awarded; the Ramakrishna Mission (1998), Baba Amte (1999), and Nelson Mandela (2000).

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