Will Viswanathan Anand finally get the Bharat Ratna he deserves?
Viswanathan Anand won the World Rapid Championship on Thursday after remaining unbeaten in the whole competition. Six wins and nine draws saw him finish joint top with Russians Vladimir Fedoseev and Ian Nepomniachtchi with 10.5 points. Anand finished joint second at the end of the second day but Fedoseev suffered a shock defeat to Grishchuk allowing Anand to cover lost ground. In the end, Anand defeated Fedoseev in a two-game tie-breaker. The Indian Grandmaster said that the victory against World No.1 Magnus Carlsen was instrumental in winning the championship.
Anand had not won the World Rapid Championship since 2003 and had a couple of disastrous World Championships before this year. The Indian Grandmaster's critics were very vocal in the past three years as his last tournament win came in December 2014, when he won the 6th London Chess Classic tournament.
Just before the start of the World Championship, Anand fell out of the Top 10 for the first time since 1991. Understandably, there were a lot of calls for retirement from his critics and Anand himself said that he wasn't feeling positive coming into the tournament. However, it would be fair to say that the 48-year-old silenced them in the best way possible.
However, before these unfruitful three years, Anand won a lot of World Championships and cemented his name among the Indian sports legends. In 1987, the boy from Chennai won the World Junior Chess Championship becoming the first Indian to do so. Anand became a Grandmaster at the age of 18 after winning the Shakti Finance International Chess Tournament and was awarded Padma Shri at the tender age.
In 2000, the Indian Grandmaster won the FIDE World Championship becoming the first Indian to do so. He defeated the defending champion Alexander Khalifman in the quarter-final on his way to the title. In 2007, the FIDE World Championship and the Classic World Championship was unified. Anand won the 2007 FIDE World Championship and he became the first person to become the undisputed champion via a tournament win since 1984.
He successfully defended his title by defeating Vladimir Kramnik to win the 2008 FIDE World Championship as well. In 2010, after a poor start to the tournament, Anand was once more successful in defending his championship as he won against Veselin Topalov in the last match. In 2012, he defeated Boris Gelfand via a rapid tie-break to win the title for the fourth consecutive time. In 2013, he lost the title to Magnus Carlsen and failed to win it back in 2014 as well.
The last time Anand won the World Rapid Championship was in 2003 when it was started for the first time as he beat Kramnik in the final.
In 1987, after winning the World Junior Chess Championship, he was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honour in sports. Anand was awarded the inaugural Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, the highest sports honour for the country in 1991-92. His first World Championship win saw the government confer him with the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian honour. In 2007, when he became the undisputed World Champion, the government conferred him with the Padma Vibushan, the second highest civilian honour.
When he successfully defended his championship three times in a row in 2008, 2010 and 2012, his fans expected the government would award him the Bharat Ratna the highest civilian honour after the changes made in 2011, which said that personalities from 'any field of human endeavour' are eligible for the award but they were left disappointed.
In 2014, Sachin Tendulkar was awarded the Bharat Ratna, which was very surprising and the move came under a lot of criticism as he became the first sportsperson to win the highest civilian honour before the likes of Major Dhyanchand, Abhinav Bindra, Viswanathan Anand and Sushil Kumar.
While Dhyanchand helped India to three Olympic golds, Bindra became the first Indian to win an individual gold at the Olympics and Sushil won two medals at two separate Olympics. All the achievements were neglected by the Indian government as it awarded the highest civilian honour to Tendulkar, who has been part of a team that won a single World Cup in 23 years.
Anand, who won the World Championship five times in his career alongside two World Rapid Championship, could well have dwarfed Tendulkar's achievement.
The President of India has called Anand an inspiration for all Indians and maybe it's a sign that the day Anand will be conferred with the Bharat Ratna is not far. Till then, however, sports enthusiasts will always wonder how a great champion like him has never been conferred India's highest civilian award.