Sriram Balasubramanian is a Journalist, voracious reader, avid Blogger, social enthusiast and a believer in excellence not mediocrity. With an inherent passion towards journalism and writing, he believes in playing the "Straight Drive" all the time. Besides this, he has a MS in Engineering Management and has played Chess for Singapore.
Viswanathan Anand has done it yet again. With his nail-biting victory over Boris Gelfand, Anand has proved that he is one of the greatest chess players ever to have played the game. Reaching the pinnacle of a sport is hard but the hardest is to sustain your place at the top. Anand has done that so remarkably. While his intellectual powers are lauded world over, I think it is high time we consider conferring the Bharat Ratna on him. This is assuming sportsmen are eligible for it and the text below is not a comparison table but an objective assessment of Anand and why he deserves the award.
How good is he at the sport?
Well, to put it simply, he is the undisputed World Champion. So he is the best at this point of time. To put it in a broader perspective, he is a World Champion in multiple formats of the game (classical, knockout and rapid). No player has ever won in multiple formats of the game. In addition, he has defended his title from three challengers for seven years of the last decade. In the annals of the game of chess, Anand is on the same pedestal as that of Bobby Fischer and Gary Kasparov.
What is his longevity in the game to deserve a Bharat Ratna?
Longevity is something that is so underestimated in the case of Anand. When he won the World Junior, he was 18 and it was 1987. It was the year when the Soviet Union still existed. Sir Alex Ferguson was in his first season at Manchester United and Sachin Tendulkar had not made his debut for India. From 1987 till 1990, he was at the super GM level but once he trumped Karpov and Kasparov in 1991, he became a true World Championship contender. Ever since then, for over two decades, he has been at the top of his sport, consistently being one of the best players in the world. This remarkable feat is unmatched in modern chess history. Even the legendary Kasparov bid adieu to the game at the age of 41. Anand just won a World Championship yesterday at 43 which tells you how remarkable his longevity at the top is.
What is the level of impact he has had with his game in his country?
This is the most important question. For someone to qualify for a Bharat Ratna in the sport category, this is very important. This is exactly the area in which Anand trumps everyone. Anand is the one man army who has marshalled an army of young chess players who are on the verge of turning India into a chess superpower. When Anand became a Grandmaster, he was the first. Now India has 24 Grandmasters, 74 International Masters and hundreds of Fide Masters. India is number 6 in the average ratings of top 10 players with a rating of 2645 for all its players, reducing the gap with the legendary Russians to just 70 points. The current Asian Junior Champion is an Indian and the Asian Team Championships were also dominated by Indians. Adding to all this is the numerous World Youth Championship titles and the awards in the Youth Championships across the continent and the world.
This entire gamut of chess talent in this country looks up to Anand. He brings money into the game; he is the inspiration and the ray of hope for all the youngsters. It is a well-known fact that he takes much care to visit local tournaments whenever he is in town. In addition, he is always known to encourage and motivate youngsters through his two-decade-strong career. The sheer impact of his presence and his contribution to the sport, in my view, has not been matched by any other single individual in any other sport.
Does he have the character and the stature to get the Bharat Ratna?
Since it is India's highest honour, the word stature is a very important virtue. If there was one thing in the chess world that everyone agrees upon, including the Russians; it is the gentleman in Anand. Despite all his accomplishments, he is one of the most down-to-earth humble individuals that one can ever come across. He lost his World Championship in Lausanne in 1999 to Karpov by a whisker in a tiebreak. He battled hard for two months to fight through the challenger series to fight the incumbent Karpov who was fresh waiting to face Anand. The day after such a gruelling and unlucky loss, he was as jovial as you would ever see him - such is the grace of the man. There is not an iota of a doubt that he is the most gracious World Champion the game has ever seen. As such, if there was anyone who has the stature, it would be him.
Is chess a sport? Does it deserve the honour?
This is the only question that may dilute Anand's case. This sport might not be physical in nature but there is no doubt in its recognition as a sport. The Olympics recognises it and every regional games recognises it. Mental sports require physical endurance in their own way. If Snooker, without individuals physically running, can be accepted as a sport, why not chess? So what's the fuss about? Even if chess is not considered a sport but a game or an art form, still Anand would qualify for the country's top-most honour.
In retrospect, it seems that Anand's case for Bharat Ratna is as compelling as that of any other individual. If it is ever given to any sportsman, Anand would be among the top few in that list. If it was ever given to a global achiever, he would be among the top few in that list. Even if it was ever given to any Indian living alive, he would be among the top few in that list.
After all, if there was any person who deserves such an honour, it would be Viswanathan Anand.