For West Bengal’s last Leftist chief minister (2000-11) Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, refusing to accept the Padma Bhushan is political. Always a critic of the saffron camp, it didn’t come much of a surprise when he decided not to accept the award bestowed upon him by the Modi government for his work in Public Affairs.
However, in the case of the legendary singer Sandhya Mukherjee, who is considered to have the “sweetest voice in Bengal,” the decision to turn down the Padma Shri was not politically motivated. The same goes for tabla maestro Anindya Chattopadhyay, who refused the Padma Shri as it has arrived too late in his career.
As soon as the news spread that the former CM has declined the Padma honours, the Left supporters were in a jubilant mood and praised how the Communists are hardliners and resolute in their ideologies.
Bhattacharjee is bedridden. The 77-year-old Communist leader has been away from public life since Left lost to Mamata Banerjee in 2011.“I don’t know anything about a Padma Bhushan award. No one told me anything about it. If they have given me a Padma Bhushan award, I am rejecting it,” he said in a statement.
The CPI(M) in a social media post, wrote: “Com. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya who was nominated for the Padma Bhushan award has declined to accept it. The CPI(M) policy has been consistent in declining such awards from the State. Our work is for the people not for awards. Com EMS who was earlier offered an award had declined it.”
In 1992, veteran Marxist leader EMS Namboodiripad, who was the first Communist chief minister in India, had refused the Padma Vibhushan award given by the then Congress government.
Meanwhile, Sandhya Mukherjee, who is considered the prima donna of the Bengali playback industry, was contacted by the Centre regarding the Padma Shri. However, her family members informed that the iconic singer refused to accept it as she found it “insulting.”
Her daughter Soumi Sengupta said: “An official called her up and said that the Centre would confer the Padma Shri on her. She is 90 years old and has a career spanning over eight decades. Now, she has been chosen for Padma Shri. This is humiliating for an artiste of her stature and she refused to accept it,” Sengupta said.
Though Mukherjee is known for her gamut of hugely popular songs in Bengali, she started her career in Hindi with a song in the film Taarana in 1950. Then, she went on to sing for 17 Hindi films. She is known best for her collaboration with Hemanta Mukherjee. Just like Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen became the hit Bengali onscreen pair, Hemanta and Sandhya became the famous playback duo. Mukherjee received her music training under Pandit Santosh Kumar Basu, Professor A T Kannan, and Professor Chinmoy Lahiri and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. In 1970, Mukherjee won the National Award for best playback singer for her songs in Bengali films Jay Jayanti and Nishi Padma.
In 2011, the year Mamata Banerjee became Bengal’s CM, Mukherjee received Banga Bibhushan, the highest civilian honour of the state.
For tabla wizard Anindya Chattopadhyay, the time for receiving the Padma Shri award had passed. “My time to receive Padma Shri has long passed. In fact, my juniors have already been awarded the Padma Shri,” said the Farrukhabad tabla player, who has performed with Amjad Ali Khan, Ravi Shankar, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Chatterjee had received the Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 2002.
A recipient of the President’s Award in 1970, Chatterjee became the first tabla player to perform in the House of Commons. He also performed at the Rashtrapati Bhavan when US President Barack Obama visited the country in November 2010. Popular classical singer Rashid Khan and well-known actor Victor Banerjee were also honoured with the Padma Bhushan award this year.