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President presents Padma awards

By Our Staff Reporter

— PTI

The President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, presenting the Padma Vibhushan to the famous cartoonist, R.K. Laxman, at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Monday.

NEW DELHI, MARCH 28. The President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, conferred the country's three major civilian awards — Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri — on 91 distinguished personalities from various walks of life in the Darbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan here this evening.

The second most important civilian honour after Bharat Ratna, the Padma Vibhushan, was presented to the distinguished cartoonist, R.K. Laxman; acclaimed cardiologist, Dr. Bal Krishna Goyal; parliamentarian, Dr. Karan Singh; renowned cardiac surgeon, Dr. M.V.S. Valiathan; the Attorney-General, Milon Kumar Banerji; eminent public figure of Maharashtra, Dr. Mohan Dharia; renowned Sarangi exponent, Pandit Ram Narayan; and posthumously to the former veteran diplomat and National Security Adviser, J.N. Dixit. Besides, 28 people were honoured with the Padma Bhushan and 55 with the Padma Shri.

On many occasions through the investiture ceremony, the President showed he is truly a "people's President" by breaking the protocol and coming forth to present the roll of honour and the medallion to the awardees either out of sheer respect for them or because the person appeared unwell or was on a wheelchair.

While a statue of Lord Buddha surrounded by a cola-coloured velvet cloth on all sides provided a perfect backdrop to the presentation ceremony, the presence of a number of stars — both from the world of sports and performing arts — lent the hall an aristocratic touch. And the group which drew the loudest applause from the audience included the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh; his wife, Gursharan Kaur; the Lok Sabha Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee; the Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, Sonia Gandhi; the former President, K.R. Narayanan; his wife, Usha Narayanan; and the former Prime Minister, I.K. Gujral.

Among the well-known public figures who were awarded the Padma Bhushan were industrialist B.M. Munjal; well-known historian, Irfan Habib; Dr. (Ms.) Kiran Mazumdar Shaw of Biocon fame; the legendary figure of Indian music, Manna Dey; prominent Urdu novelist, Qurratulain Hyder; and veteran film director, Yash Raj Chopra.

The loudest applause, however, went out for Padma Shri recipient Gladys June Staines who "remained steadfast in her devotion to care for people affected by leprosy, despite her personal tragedy." Her husband Graham Staines and two sons had been burnt alive in January 1991 in Orissa by religious fanatics.

From the Fourth Estate among those who were awarded the Padma Shri were the Editor of Malayala Manorama, Mammen Mathew, and the vice-chairperson and editorial director of the Hindustan Times Limited, Shobhana Bhartia.

Many a star also shone in the "Padma Shri" category of awards. Identifying easily with the celebrities, the audience applauded loudly when Bollywood super star Shah Rukh Khan, seasoned singer Kavita Krishnamurti, renowned film-maker Muzaffar Ali, badminton player Pullela Gopi Chand and Olympic Silver Medal winning ace-shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore received the awards.

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