FROM actors to astrologers, a chef to a carpet manufacturer, an author of a book on Akhilesh Yadav to even a compere hosting the show on stage. For over an hour in Lucknow Thursday, the bitter political wrangling within the Samajwadi Party receded to the background as Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav handed over the state government’s Yash Bharti awards to 71 people for their contributions in the field of culture.
It did not matter that many of the award-winners, such as carpet manufacturer Gulham Shafarruddin, were associated with the ruling SP. Or that the awards, instituted by Akhilesh’s father and former UP chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1994, were being handed over for the second time this year.
All that mattered, according to Culture Minister Arun Kumari Kori, was the Chief Minister’s “generous heart”. “Yeh pehli baar hua hai kyunki mukhyamantriji ka dil udaar hai (This is happening for the first time because the Chief Minister has a generous heart),” Kori told The Indian Express.
Government officials, meanwhile, pointed to the assembly elections around the corner and clarified that this set of awards — each carrying a cash prize of Rs 11 lakh and Rs 50,000 in monthly pension — was for 2016-17, given in advance.
On Thursday, such was the mood on stage that the Chief Minister decided during the function to hand over an award to the compere Archana Satish, who anchors programmes on Doordarshan, leading to a frantic hunt for an additional bouquet and a shawl.
Officials were quick to clarify that Satish had expressed her desire for the award earlier. The Chief Minister holds special powers to nominate an awardee even after the selection committee formed under the Culture Department Secretary had finalised the list, said officials.
Sources said that the original list this time had more than 50 names that was extended to over 60, with as many as six added on Wednesday. In March, the awards for 2015-16 were given to 50 nominees, taking to 187 the total number of awardees since 1994 — the awards were discontinued during the BSP and BJP regimes in between.
The Chief Minister, meanwhile, took the opportunity to score a few political points, too. He referred to his father at least five times in his speech. “Netaji ka dhanyawad (Thanks to Netaji)” for instituting the awards, he said.
”Bahut sari aisi cheezen di jo Samajwadiyon se socha bhi nahi ja sakta tha (We have given so many things that no one had expected from Samajwadis),” he said.
The biggest name on the list was actor Naseeruddin Shah, who failed to make it for the event. But there were other names that raised a few eyebrows.
Among them was 29-year-old Marinder Kumar Mishra, who completed a course in journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) in 2009 and has authored books on socialism, including one on Akhilesh titled “Samajwadi Model ke Yuva Dwajwahak: Akhilesh”.
Mishra is also the son of Murlidhar Mishra, an SP leader from Sidharthanagar. ”I will open a Samajwadi research centre in Lucknow with the prize money,” said Mishra, adding that he had been associated with SP leaders such as Brijbhushan Tiwari, Mata Prasad Pandey and Rajendra Chaudhary.
Also on the list was renowned chef Ghulam Moenuddin Kuraishi, who was honoured for promoting Awadhi cuisine.
Then there was Dr Ramakant Yadav, who heads the neurology department at the Uttar Pradesh University of Medical Sciences in Saifai, the home of the Chief Minister. And, Venkat Changawali, consultant to the UP Home Department on the Chief Minister’s Dial 100 emergency service scheme.
Asked about the selection criteria, Hari Om, Secretary, UP Culture Department, said, “We had received about 310 applications that were scrutinised by the selection committee headed by me at the directorate level and the minister at the government level. The final approval was given by the Chief Minister, who holds special powers under the provisions of the award.”
Others on the list included actor Saurabh Shukla, cricketers Piyush Chawla, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Gyanendra Pandey and Praveen Kumar, astrologers Oma Upadhyaya and Hari Prasad Mishra, and Vijay Shekhar Sharma, CEO of Paytm, who hails from Aligarh.
Incidentally, the first Yash Bharti award winner in 1994 was poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan, the father of actor Amitabh Bachchan.