Mystery deepens: Did the Modi govt rush to award Gita Mehta without consent

It appears that the Modi government was in a hurry to announce a Padma Shri for novelist Gita Mehta, the elder sister of Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik

Mystery deepens: Did the Modi govt rush to award Gita Mehta without consent
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Ashlin Mathew

Rushing through announcements does seem to be the hallmark of this government. It appears that the Modi government was in a hurry to announce a Padma Shri for novelist Gita Mehta, the elder sister of Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik.

According to practice, whenever the government finalises an awardee, the person is contacted to seek her/his consent so that the government is spared embarrassment if the person decides to decline the award after it is announced. It seems that either no attempt was made to contact Gita Mehta, or she could not be contacted. Either way, the fact remains that when the government announced her name, it was done without her consent.

After the announcement was made, Mehta issued the following statement: “I am deeply honoured that the Government of India should think me worthy of a Padma Shri but with great regret I feel I must decline as there is a general election looming and the timing of the award might be misconstrued.”

However, in an e-mail communication to National Herald, the writer of popular novels such as Karma Cola, intriguingly said, “I did not reject the award. I merely asked for my name to be withdrawn from consideration as I did not think it appropriate that anyone with political connections should get a national award on the eve of a national election. Unfortunately, as I was in hospital and unable to be contacted, my name was inadvertently published in the GOI list.”

There have been reports about Prime Minister Narendra Modi having had a 90-minute meeting six months ago with her and her publisher husband Sonny Mehta, who has published books of several American presidents.

So, was the government confident that after this meeting, Gita Mehta would not decline the award even if her consent could not be sought or procured?

It does give the impression that the Modi government was trying to send a political message to Naveen Patnaik by honouring his sister with a Padma award, but ended up with egg on its face because of its incompetence and hubris.

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