Bharat Ratna Award 2019

NEW DELHI: The government on Friday announced Bharat Ratna, the nation’s highest civilian honour, for former President Pranab Mukherjee, late Assamese singer Bhupen Hazarika and late social activist and RSS veteran Nanaji Deshmukh. While the honour for Mukherjee is being seen as a political move, given the widely held belief that he was overlooked for the PM’s post by then Congress president Sonia Gandhi despite being one of the seniormost leaders and primary trouble-shooters of the party, the award for Hazarika comes amid simmering public sentiment against BJP in Assam over the Citizenship Amendment Bill. The recognition for Deshmukh, a reverential figure for legions of RSS workers and sympathisers, is sure to go down well among the saffron fraternity.

In fact, the Sangh Parivar must also be pleased with the Padma Shri conferred posthumously on Devendra Swarup, a well-regarded saffron ideologue. Bharat Ratna is being conferred after a gap of three years. The Modi government had last awarded the top civilian honour to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Banaras Hindu University founder Madan Mohan Malviya. PM Narendra Modi was quick to congratulate Mukherjee, who had last year defied protests from his colleagues and the “secular” intelligentsia to speak at an important RSS event. “Pranab Da is an outstanding statesman of our times. He has served the nation selflessly and tirelessly for decades, leaving a strong imprint on the nation's growth trajectory. His wisdom and intellect have few parallels. Delighted that he has been conferred the Bharat Ratna,” the PM tweeted.

 

Mukherjee, while accepting the honour, said in a tweet, “It is with a deep sense of humility and gratitude to the people of India that I accept this great honour Bharat Ratna bestowed upon me. I have always said and I repeat that I have got more from the people of our great country than I have given to them.” Pranab babu , a trusted colleague of Indira Gandhi, fell out of the Congress leadership’s favour because of the suspicion that he wanted to succeed the former PM after her assassination. With Rajiv Gandhi inheriting his mother’s mantle, Mukherjee had to leave the party. Though he returned and was gradually rehabilitated, he was passed over for the PM’s job in 2004 with Sonia Gandhi preferring Manmohan Singh, a safer option. In fact, according to reliable insider accounts, Mukherjee was not Sonia’s first choice for president either. The former Congress boss favoured the elevation of Hamid Ansari, the then vice-president, until circumstances forced her to opt for Mukherjee. The top most civilian recognition for the veteran politician, apart from playing well in West Bengal which figures prominently in BJP’s scheme for 2019, can be a buffer against the charge of political insularity that has been hurled at the BJP leadership. Hailing the honour for Hazarika, a much-respected figure in Assam thanks to his melodious voice, the PM said, “The songs and music of Shri Bhupen Hazarika are admired by people across generations. From them radiates the message of justice, harmony and brotherhood. He popularised India's musical traditions globally. Happy that the Bharat Ratna has been conferred on Bhupen Da.”

The award for Nanaji Deshmukh comes as no surprise given his background as a social worker and as leader of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh and RSS. Modi tweeted, “Nanaji Deshmukh’s stellar contribution towards rural development showed the way for a new paradigm of empowering those living in our villages. He personifies humility, compassion and service to the downtrodden. He is a Bharat Ratna in the truest sense.”

Interestingly, the recipients of Padma Shri also include H S Phoolka. The lawyer, who worked relentlessly for the punishment of Congress leaders and others accused of the massacre of Sikhs in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, recently quit AAP in the wake of speculation that Arvind Kejriwal was considering a tie-up with Congress. The other important recipient is Gita Mehta, a US-based author who also happens to be the sister of Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik.

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