Why the row over Padma Shri to Adnan Sami is stupid

NEW DELHI, INDIA - OCTOBER 5, 2007: Bollywood singer Adnan Sami during the launch of reality show Bol Baby Bol, on October 5, 2007 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The government of India’s decision to confer the nation’s fourth-highest civilian honour, Padma Shri, upon Adnan Sami has evoked an equal amount of praise and criticism. 

Much of the criticism has been political where spokespersons of Opposition parties such as the Congress have heavily criticised the BJP-led NDA government for honouring the former Pakistani singer who took Indian citizenship in 2016 on humanitarian grounds.

Even though the Congress party in the past had feted Sami on multiple occasions, it’s national spokesperson, Jaiveer Shergill said that the only reason Sami got the Padma Shri was that he was ‘a sycophant of the BJP’. A few even evoked the memories of Sami’s father, a Pakistani Air Force officer, who fought against India in 1965. 

It’s interesting to note how from his date of birth, 15 August, his mother Nuareen, who originally hailed from Jammu & Kashmir to his music career, Sami, has had an ‘Indian’ connection. 

The first album that Sami produced, The One & Only (1989), saw him collaborate with tabla maestro Ustad Zakhir Hussain and the first film that he composed music for in Pakistan, Sargam, featured the vocals of Asha Bhosle, a first of its kind. Later Sami recorded a collection of love songs named Kabhi Toh Nazar Milao in India with Asha Bhosle, and its success changed everything. 

Since the early 2000s, Sami was primarily based out of India and continued to work in films as well as produce his private albums. He enjoyed great success in Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi films where his songs from films as Saathiya, Boys, Yuva, Satham Podathey, Siva Manasula Sakthi,  Varsham, Chatrapathi, Shankar Dada MBBS, Taxi Number 9211, and 100% Love becoming big hits. 

He went on to compose the score for numerous films including, Lucky: No Time for Love, Yeh Raaste Hain Pyar Ke, Dhamaal, 1920, and Chance Pe Dance. 

In 2003, Sami composed a song for India during the 2003 Cricket World Cup and the video of the song, which featured the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Fardeen Khan, and Kareena Kapoor, was what one would today label highly ‘nationalistic’ in spirit. 

The time when Adnan Sami composed the Indian cricket team’s anthem for the World Cup, he was not even an Indian citizen. Still, if one were to recall that period or the years that followed, there would be little doubt in people’s minds that Sami’s heart beat for India. 

It’s in instances such as these where one gets to see how Sami’s impact on India goes far beyond the success he enjoyed as a singer-musician in the 2000s. He has been a significant part of the consciousness of millions of Indians in the last two decades. 

How does one explain his participation in the 350-year celebration of the Taj Mahal in 2005, where many politicians (read Congress leaders) cheered him on with the same enthusiasm as they displayed for ’Indians’ such as Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and Jaya Pradha? 

In 2008, the Congress government of Andhra Pradesh also honoured Sami with the prestigious Naushad Music Awards, and by 2011 Union minister P  Chidambaram agreed to calls by senior Congress functionaries like Digvijaya Singh to allow Sami to stay in India. 

In the past, the Padma Awards has also been awarded to some distinguished individuals who were not citizens of India but did contribute in various ways to India. In the light of all the events that led to Sami being conferred with the Padma Shri, the controversy surrounding the singer is pointless, and dare one say, stupid. 

The Congress party’s hue and cry about Sami’s father, Arshad Sami Khan, fighting against India while his son being honoured with the nation’s fourth highest civilian award is misdirected and reeks of a political slugfest. 

The irony isn’t lost on people who would recall how in 2008 Arshad Sami Khan’s biography 3 Presidents and an Aide was not only published in India as it couldn’t find a publisher in Pakistan but also released by former Prime Minister I K Gujral in the presence of the then Congress chief minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh. 

For some who are questioning the timing of the award, as they believe that Adnan Sami is past his prime, it would be worth noting that Sami remains the only Asian to sell out the Wembley Arena two nights in a row. He did this in 2005, 2008, and as recently as in 2017.