Unlike in the past years, several unsung underdogs, whose stellar contribution to the nation has gone unnoticed, have stunned everyone by bagging the coveted Padma awards this Republic Day. This is the direct result of the reforms brought in by the Narendra Modi-led NDA government at the Centre in honouring persons from different sectors.

All the eight Padma Shri winners from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh this time won many a heart, although badminton player from Hyderabad Jwala Gutta voiced her discontent over being denied the honour and wondered how she should have done a better PR (public relations). However, the fact is that some of those who got the Padmas this year do not know even the meaning of PR.

Usually, the list of Padma awards which is released on 25 January evening, a day before the nation celebrates its Republic Day, raises eyebrows as it indicates the pulls and pressures by powers that be as well as intense lobbying by individuals. However, this year it was a different ball game altogether, as the list contained many surprises.

None of the 25 names recommended by the Telangana government and 22 by the Andhra Pradesh government figured on the list announced by the Centre. Though both the states named Olympic medallist P.V. Sindhu for Padma Bhushan, she, too, didn’t figure on the list as she won Padma Shri only last year. There should be a gap of a minimum five years between two Padma awards.

Take the case of Darpalli Ramaiah, a 67-year-old Class 6 dropout from the remote Reddipalli village in the forest belt of Khammam district in Telangana. Ramaiah won the Padma Shri for planting thousands of trees and spreading the cause of greenery. A poor farmer, Ramaiah does not know much about recognition from outside his village, leave alone the Padma Shri.

Inspired by his science teacher’s teaching that trees are saviours of humanity, Ramaiah, son a poor wage labourer, took to the path of planting saplings in and around his home first, and later in his village and then to many villages in the district. He became popular as “Vanajeevi Ramaiah”. This frail looking old man today is an inspiration to thousands of students and youth in the region.

Talking to The Sunday Guardian on phone from his village, Ramaiah said that he was thrilled to know that he has been awarded the Padma Shri. He said this honour to him would inspire many youngsters to plant more trees in their homes and villages. Ramaiah’s only wish is to see the pictures of Mahatma Gandhi planting saplings on the currency notes. He wants to tell this to the Prime Minister and the President.

Even Aekka Yadagiri Rao, 80, who attained international acclaim in sculpture, was surprised to find his name on the Padma list. Rao, who made the famous Telangana martyrs’ memorial in front of the state Assembly in Hyderabad, has sent his application for Padma honour some years ago and gave up hope after several attempts.

His name did not feature on the list of 45 nominations made by the Chandrasekhar Rao-led TRS government to the Centre this year. “I am so happy that the Centre has taken me into consideration and selected me for this honour,” Yadagiri Rao told this newspaper. He is eagerly waiting to go to Delhi to receive the award from the President.

Similar is the case with 70-year-old Mohammad Abdul Waheed, a Unani doctor who has treated around two lakh patients for vittiligo (a white skin disease) in Hyderabad and surrounding areas for the past three decades. He, too, never imagined that the Centre would recognise his work and honour him with a Padma Shri.

Dr Waheed, who once headed the Hyderabad-based Central Research Institute of Unani Medicine, has around 25 research publications to his credit and presented around 100 papers at different seminars in the country. “This Padma Shri will help remove the social stigma of white skin disease as well as popularise Unani medicine,” he told this newspaper.

Chintakindi Mallesh, 45, is another underdog who took everyone by surprise by making it to the list of Padma awardees. Belonging to a remote Shahrajpalle near Alair in Yadadri district, Mallesh, a Class 10 dropout, bagged his Padma award from the science and technology category for his discovery of “Lakshmi Asu Machine”, a weaving gadget, a decade ago. Unbelievably, Mallesh struggled hard to raise Rs 25,000 for developing the gadget a decade ago. He raised the money through his close circles and won acclaim from many industrial exhibitors. He made this gadget primarily to lessen the drudgery of his mother, Lakshmi, who used to toil 12 to 14 hours per day. “That’s why I named it after my mother,” Mallesh told this newspaper over phone on Friday.

Mallesh said that the Padma Shri has enhanced his social responsibility. He rejected offers from MNCs and national companies to sell his patent in the past few years. Instead, he has been offering the same to his fellow handloom weavers at a cost-to cost of round Rs 12,000 per unit. So far, he has distributed the gadget to around 900 weavers and intends to step it up more soon.

The other three Padma Shri awardees from Telangana — B.V.R. Mohan Reddy, chairman of NASSCOM and chairman of Cyient IT group; T. Hanuman Chowdary, former general manager of Hyderabad telecom; and Chandrakant Pitawani, scientist with Mumbai-based BARC and Hyderabad based ECIL—may not be underdogs or unsung, but they definitely did not lobby for the Padma awards.

V. Koteswaramma, a 92-year-old eminent educationist, who founded montessori educational institutions for girls in Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, too, was welcomed by many for making it to the Padma Shri list. Being the first woman graduate from Krishna district 75 years ago, Koteswaramma has done immense work for the promotion of girls’ education.

Earlier the process of applying for Padma awards was at two levels: first, by a formal communication from the state governments to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and second by direct applications by individuals and sponsors. Once the nominations are done with by the end of September, the MHA would take its time to process it further at higher levels and announce the list on 25 January.

As the process of sending applications through the state governments as well as by individuals in sealed covers was opaque and ridden with scope for all sorts of manipulations and malpractices, the BJP-led NDA government changed the process for the 2017 awards onwards. As per the new process, all nominations are to be made online in a transparent manner.

Anyone can sponsor the name of anyone and the role of the state governments has been minimised. The Centre has also decided to examine the names of those who had been left out in the previous years and get details of the persons who have been working silently in their respective fields. There used to be hectic lobbying even to get a person’s name forwarded by a state government. Now this is a thing of the past.

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