The 2024 Padma Awards were recently announced, and the President has granted consent for the award of 132 Padma Awards, including 5 Padma Vibhushan, 17 Padma Bhushan, and 110 Padma Shri. Data indicates that the number of Padma Awards conferred in the years in which polls to Lok Sabha took place was higher than the average awards conferred in the preceding years.
In a country as vast and multifaceted as India, civilian awards serve as unifying forces, transcending regional, linguistic, and cultural boundaries. They highlight the richness and diversity of talent that exists within the nation, showcasing stories of perseverance, ingenuity, and service that resonate with people from all walks of life. By honouring individuals who have excelled in fields ranging from art and literature to science, social work, and public service, these awards reinforce the idea that success knows no barriers and that every contribution, no matter how small, is valued and appreciated. Furthermore, these civilian awards can act as catalysts for social change, providing a platform for issues that are often overlooked or marginalized.
These Civilian awards are the highest form of national recognition. Each award, be it the prestigious Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, or the highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, carries with it the weight of history and the essence of excellence. They not only acknowledge individual achievements but also inspire others to strive for greatness, fostering a culture of meritocracy and innovation.
One Bharat Ratna and 132 Padma Awards conferred in 2024.
The Bharat Ratna is the highest civilian award in the country. It is different from the Padma Award in its treatment and significance. Recommendations for the Bharat Ratna are usually made by the Prime Minister directly to the President of India, without necessitating any formal process. The number of Bharat Ratna Awards is restricted to a maximum of three in a particular year. Following the conferral of three Bharat Ratna Awards in 2019, the year 2024 saw the bestowal of the Bharat Ratna upon the former Chief Minister of Bihar, Karpoori Thakur, popularly referred to as ‘Jan Nayak’. A total of 49 Bharat Ratna awards have been conferred to date since the inception of awards in 1954.
For the year 2024, the President has granted consent for the award of 132 Padma Awards, encompassing 2 instances of collaborative recognition (wherein each duo case is counted as one award). The comprehensive list encompasses 5 Padma Vibhushan, 17 Padma Bhushan, and 110 Padma Shri Awards. Notably, among the recipients, 30 are women, while the roster extends its embrace to 8 individuals hailing from the category of Foreigners / NRI / PIO / OCI, alongside paying tribute to 9 figures posthumously.
Excluding foreigners and posthumous awards, the total Padma Awards conferred in 2024 stands at 115. It should be noted that the maximum number of awards to be given in a year (excluding posthumous awards and to foreigners) should not be more than 120. To date, a total of 5191 Padma Awards are conferred.
A record 55 recipients for Padma Awards under ‘Art’ category in 2024, highest since inception.
The Padma Awards aim to acknowledge outstanding contributions in various fields, encompassing a wide range of activities and disciplines. This recognition is bestowed for distinguished and exceptional achievements or service. The diverse list of eligible fields includes but is not limited to, art, social work, public affairs, science and engineering, trade and industry, medicine, literature and education, sports, civil service, and more.
A total of 5191 Padma Awards have been conferred to date, with awards under the ‘Art’ category accounting for 23% of the total, followed by ‘Literature’ at 20%, and ‘Medicine’ at 12%. These three fields account for more than 50% of the total Padma Awards conferred to date.
Further, in 2024, 55 Padma Awards were conferred under the ‘Art’ category, making it the highest in that category since the inception of the awards.
How Political are the Padma Awards? Exploring perspectives- States and Central
The declaration of the Padma Awards frequently sparks controversy, with allegations that selections may be influenced by political agendas. Historically, it is alleged that the Padma Awards served as a form of political messaging. While the electoral impact of such signalling may be minimal, the politicization of these awards can still offer a perceived moral advantage during elections.
But, given the public narrative space these awards command, it is assumed that the conferment of these awards is politics-free. However, the reality may differ.
When the data on the number of Padma Awards given to states that had elections that year is compiled, it is observed that the average share of Padma award recipients from poll-bound states out of the total awards conferred always hovered around 22%. Between 1999-2004, 2005-09, and 2010-2014, the share of poll-bound states remained at 21% out of the total Padma Awards. However, between 2015-2019, it marginally rose to 23%, and from 2020-2023, it further rose to 25%.
(Note: The number of poll-bound states in each year varies, and accordingly the incentive to confer Padma awards to that state varies. This must be kept in mind while analysing the below graph).
Since the Union government is primarily involved in the selection process of the recipients, the murmurs that these awards are used for further political advantage in Lok Sabha elections always exist.
The data on the Padma Awards conferred in the years in which polls to Lok Sabha took place show that the number of awards conferred in the Lok Sabha poll year was higher than the average awards conferred in the preceding years.
In 2004, the number of Padma Awardees was 96, whereas the average in the preceding years from 2000 was 92. Similarly, for 2009, where poll year saw 133 awards, while the average in preceding years was 109. For 2014, 2019, and 2024, the Padma awardees stood at 126, 111, and 132 whereas the averages in the preceding years stood at 117, 96 and 123 respectively.
Future of these awards: Need for a policy to revoke honours.
Criticism of political motivations driving these awards, perceived lack of transparency in the selection process, and some recipients declining the honour exist. On the other hand, proponents argue that these awards serve as vital national recognition for those who have made meaningful contributions to society. However, there is a pressing need for reforms to address the flaws in the selection process. These concerns are undeniably valid, particularly regarding the establishment of a mechanism to revoke awards if compelling evidence emerges that an awardee has tarnished the integrity of these awards.