The Narendra Modi government and the office of the President deserve to do some soul-searching for the way they treated the bulk of the awardees of the 65th National Film Awards this time around.
The segregation they indulged in, setting apart only 11 awards to be personally presented by President Ram Nath Kovind with the others in nearly 60 categories to be handed out by Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani and her deputy Rajyavardhan Rathore was discriminatory and insulting to those who were left out of the list of awardees handed out the award by the President.
It is small wonder, then, that an estimated 50 of the 125 awardees chose to virtually boycott the award-giving ceremony, returning to their hotel after it was made known to them that they would have to be content with receiving their awards from the ministers rather than the President.
There is doubtlessly a certain halo attached to receiving an award from the President which is undeniable.
That the invitation that had been sent to the awardees had mentioned that they would get the awards from the President lent a poor taste when this simple assertion was violated. This section of awardees was indeed made to feel like second class awardees which was shocking and avoidable.
It is difficult to say who is to blame more, the President’s office or the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting that organised the awards function, but there is no doubt that amends need to be made. The argument cannot be sustained that one set of awardees was superior to the rest -- -each one had his own area of expertise and each one deserved equal respect.
The awardees were informed of the change only after they reached the venue.
Irani is believed to have assured them that she would convey their ‘sentiments’ to the President’s office. But the damage had been done. If it is true that Irani knew of the intended segregation well in advance as is being claimed in a section of the media, it was her duty to inform the awardees promptly. As some of them later said, had they known, many of them would not have brought their next of kin along.
Reports also say that the names of the absent winners were not even announced. The decision that the President would give away only the ‘major’ awards and would stay for one hour was indeed unfortunate.
As many as 69 awardees signed a letter addressed to the President saying, “It feels like a breach of trust when an institution/ceremony that abides by extreme protocol fails to inform us of such a vital aspect of the ceremony with a prior notice.” That some of those who had signed attended the ceremony was because they were sticklers for protocol.
The least that the President’s office and the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting must do is to express regret for the fiasco to the awardees who were not conferred the award by the President.
Time-honoured conventions and protocol must be respected by all, including the high and mighty.
Who confers the award may seem a trivial matter but artistes are inherently a sensitive lot and their sensibilities need to be respected. Had the invitation not mentioned that the awards would be conferred by the President, there would have been no breach of trust and no impropriety.
It goes to the credit of the government that the National Film Awards are well-respected and credible, barring a few aberrations. The government must take all steps to maintain the majesty of the occasion and make the recipients feel special.