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Recognising Merit

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The Indian media and intellectual circles often fail to recognise the presence of Nobel Prize winning potential in the country. There are many persons going about their work with passion and commitment, not seeking acclaim, or lobbying for awards and titles. Because their work does not have media friendly dimensions and often involves taking on officialdom at every level, it is unlikely that they will be acknowledged, or provided the clout of a Padma Shri to become even greater nuisances. Awards should not just be given to individuals, but also classes of people who have served the nation and humanity well. Consider the scientists, aptly exemplified by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who have never studied or worked abroad, particularly because they were either from humble beginnings or they preferred to stay in India, yet managed to develop world beating skills in the dingy, ill-equipped and bureaucracy ridden laboratories. Individually, they may not have become Bharat Ratna awardees or President of the Republic, but their endeavours are no less Herculean. What about the millions of ordinary people living in terrorist infested areas, be it Kashmir, the North- East, the Punjab at one time, and the Maoist belt, who have not only courageously believed in the idea of India, but also resisted to the best of their ability, often making the supreme sacrifice in the process. Their sheer numbers have prevented individual acknowledgement, but their contribution to nation- building has been no less significant than that of the celebrated heroes. And, though much lip-service is paid to the officers and men of the Defence Forces, society is not sufficiently grateful to the sacrifices they make, or their largely indigenously developed fighting prowess. It is also a fact that too much of the acknowledgement has depended on the whims and fancies of those in power, as well as a patronage network assiduously developed to keep persons of ability beholden to the system. Considering that the ‘system’ has atrophied to the point that it is no longer sufficiently representative – for various reasons, not least the failure to recognise true ability – the space of ‘unacknowledged’ India is growing. The result can be seen not only in political developments, but also in the social and cultural spheres. The phenomenon is naturally evident in India’s economy. The close control sought traditionally to be maintained by government and those who think they know better, has pushed a massive proportion of money-generating activity into the informal and ‘black’ sectors. The ‘doers’ are not adequately compensated or rewarded enough, tending therefore to go abroad and make Kuber-like fortunes. The examples are many. The problem should be looked at as symptomatic of a general malaise that needs to be treated in a systemic way. At the root of it should be development of an objective, merit-based and just society. Only then will talent blossom as it should.