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The Narendra Modi government will not give out the Dr Ambedkar awards for the year 2022 on April 14, the birth anniversary of B.R. Ambedkar. Ever since the Modi government came to power in 2014, the awards named after Ambedkar have not been handed out.
The Dr. Ambedkar National award was instituted in 1992 and in 1995, another award, named the Dr. Ambedkar International award, was also put in place.
On March 9, 2022, advertisements for handing out the awards were put forward by the Ambedkar Foundation. The national award carries with it a prize of Rs 10 lakh and the international award, a prize of Rs 15 lakh.
The national award is given to people and organisations in India whose work is compatible with Ambedkar’s ideas. Similarly, the international award is given to those who, on an international level, have made a mark by fighting against inequality and injustice, or those who have done so in a creative field.
These awards are meant to be given out by the Ambedkar Foundation on April 14 every year. However, Vikas Trivedi, director of the Ambedkar International Centre, has confirmed that the awards will not be handed this year out due to some “administrative” reasons.
In fact, the same reason has been used for not giving out the award since 2015 and the foundation has even communicated that the Union government is reconsidering the award. Similarly, the international award has not been given out since 2001 and the same reason has been communicated by the Ambedkar Foundation.
What is surprising is that a call for the submission of names of individuals and organisations had been sent out on March 9. The Ambedkar Foundation’s guidelines show that the call for the submission of names is put out in November and that individuals and organisations can submit their names until December 21. However, in 2022, the call was given out in the second week of March and only 15 days (until March 27) were given for the nominations of award winners.
Similarly, the submission of names for the international awards is meant to start on July 1 and end on November 30. However, in 2022, the call for submission of names was given out on March 9.
Moreover, the information that the awards would not be given out in 2022 was not published on the websites of either Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment or any related ministry or department. It was with much difficulty that this reporter was able to get official confirmation of the cancellation of the 2022 awards, from Trivedi himself.
An official from the ministry, under conditions of anonymity, told this reporter that after the advertisement was put out, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) asked for additional, related information from the Ministry and Foundation.
The process of handing out the awards is a lengthy one. After the names are given, a committee is formed to scrutinise the applications. Subsequently, the president nominates jury members. In 2022, vice-president Venkaiah Naidu was named chairman of the jury. Finally, on the eve of Ambedkar Jayanti, April 13, the award is handed out by the president of India.
In the 30 years since the Dr. Ambedkar National Award was instituted, the award has only been given out seven times and the international award, instituted in 1995, has only been given out twice.
In 1999, the national award was given to Murlidhar Devidas, popularly known as ‘Baba Amte’, and in 2000, the international award was handed out to Spanish social worker, Remy Fernand Claude Satorre Bonhomme.
Interestingly, even though the awards haven’t been given out since 2015, the advertisement for the submission of names is put out every year. And in 2015 and 2022, ads were issued in newspapers in addition to the ministry’s website. Moreover, the advertisement costs for the 2022 award were more than Rs 50 lakh, according to the ministry official. And every year, the award is cancelled for “administrative reasons” – an elaborate explanation of what these reasons are has ever been offered.
This begs the question: are the advertisements put out for the awards or do the awards exist to put out advertisements?
This also raises an important question: While virtually every political party has attempted to use Ambedkar for electoral and political gains, why has no party questioned the repeated cancellations of these awards?