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Padma Awards & Elections – Data suggests that more Padma Shri awards are given in Election years

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Does political clout & election fever influence the Padma Awards? Data suggests that the number of Padma Shri awards increase by 29% in the election years compared to the average of the preceding 4 non-election years.

The government recently announced the Padma Awards for the year 2019. Among the 112 awardees in 2019, four (4) are given the Padma Vibhushan, 14 are given the Padma Bhushan and remaining 94, the Padma Shri. The 17th Lok Sabha elections are due in a few months and the trend of giving more Padma Shri awards in an election year continued in 2019 as well. Analysis of the data available on the Ministry of Home Affairs website proves this trend conclusively.

What are the Padma Awards?
Padma Awards were instituted in the year 1954. Except for brief interruptions during the years 1978 and 1979 and 1993 to 1997, these awards have been announced every year on Republic Day.  The award is given in three categories, the Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri.

  • Padma Vibhushan for ‘exceptional and distinguished service’
  • Padma Bhushan for ‘distinguished service of a high order’
  • Padma Shri is awarded for ‘distinguished service’

The award seeks to recognize work of any distinction and is given for distinguished and exceptional achievements or service in all fields of activities or disciplines, such as Art, Literature and Education, Sports, Medicine, Social Work, Science and Engineering, Public Affairs, Civil Service, Trade and Industry etc.

Padma Shri is the fourth highest civilian award given by the Indian government after the Bharat Ratna, the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Bhushan. The total number of Padma awards to be given in a year (excluding posthumous awards and to foreigners) should not be more than 120.

Most Padma Shri awards were given in Election years
Analysis of the data available on the Ministry of Home Affairs website suggests that the number of Padma Shri awards increase substantially in the year when the Lok Sabha elections are due. Almost all the peaks observed in the following chart are election years, the years in which Lok Sabha general election was held. This trend is more or less uniform except in years when the Lok Sabha elections were held prematurely before a full 5-year term. This trend is observed both when the Congress was in power and also now when the BJP is ruling. 

Number of Padma Shri awards increase during a Lok Sabha Election year
Three general elections to the Lok Sabha were held in the last 19 years and the fourth one is due this year. In all the four (4) election years, the number of Padma Shri awards is significantly greater than the average of the preceding 4 years.

In 2004, the number of Padma Shri awardees was 74 while the average for the preceding 4 years was 57. In 2009, 93 Padma Shri awards were given compared to the preceding 4-year average of 66. Even in 2014, 100 Padma Shri awards were given compared to the preceding 4-year average of 80. Even in 2019, the 94 Padma Shri awards were given compared to the preceding 4-year average of 76.

On average, the number of Padma Shri awards in 2004, 2009, 2014 and 2019 is 29% more than the average of the preceding four non-election years.  Congress was in power on two of these occasions while the BJP on the other two.

Is Politics playing a role?
Recommendations for these awards are usually solicited from all State/UT Governments etc. In the last three years, the government has opened up applications to these awards by launching a centralized portal for receiving recommendations. Now, even citizens can recommend a person for these awards. In addition, letters are sent to States/UTs, Institutes of Excellence, Ministries/Departments of the Government of India and the Bharat Ratna/Padma Vibhushan awardees asking for their recommendations. Nominations/recommendations are usually accepted between 1st May and 15th September every year and the winners are declared on or before the Republic Day of the following year. It is possible that a person who does not belong to a particular state is shown as being given the award from that state if he/she is recommended by that state.

While there seems to be no direct link between the electoral performance of the ruling party and number of awards to people from a particular state, it does seem that the greater political clout at the center plays a significant role in winning these awards. States like Delhi & Maharashtra have won disproportionately higher number of awards compared to the rest of the states. Out of the close to 1500 Padma Shri awards given in the last 20 years between 2000 & 2019, Delhi & Maharashtra account for 30% of these awards. Add Tamil Nadu, Kerala & Karnataka to the list, the percentage of awardees from these five states is close to 50%.  On the other hand, only 26 of all the Padma Shri awardees between 2000 & 2019 belong to a state like Bihar.

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