Former president Pranab Mukherjee, Bharatiya Jana Sangh leader Nanaji Deshmukh and singer Bhupen Hazarika will be conferred with the Bharat Ratna — the country’s highest civilian award, the government announced on Friday.
The Bharat Ratna will be conferred after a gap of four years. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and founder of Banaras Hindu University Madan Mohan Malviya were given the award by the Narendra Modi government in 2015.
A Rashtrapati Bhavan communique, on the eve of the 70th Republic Day, said the President was pleased to award Bharat Ratna to Nanaji Deshmukh (posthumously), Dr Bhupen Hazarika (posthumously) and Pranab Mukherjee.
Mukherjee, fondly known as ‘Pranab Da’, will be the sixth president to be receive this award. He was the president between 2012 and 2017.
The government also announced names of 112 persons, including one transgender, who have been selected for Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri in the fields of art, social work, public affairs, science and engineering, trade and industry, medicine, literature and education, sports, civil service etc.
Among the Padma Vibhushan — the country’s second highest civilian award — and Padma Bhushan awardees are President of Djibouti Ismail Omar Guelleh, L&T chairman A M Naik, veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar, former CAG V K Shanglu and former union ministers Kariya Munda and S S Dhindsa. The award ceremony will be held in March or April this year.
Late actor Kadar Khan, former diplomat S Jaishankar and cricketer Gautam Ghambir were among the prominent personalities named on Friday for conferment of this year’s Padma awards.
On the announcement of Mukherjee’s name for the Bharat Ratna, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the former president is an outstanding statesman of present times who has served the nation selflessly and tirelessly for decades, leaving a strong imprint on the nation’s growth trajectory.
“His (Mukherjee) wisdom and intellect have few parallels. Delighted that he has been conferred the Bharat Ratna,” Modi tweeted.
Referring to Deshmukh, Modi said his stellar contribution towards rural development showed the way for a new paradigm of empowering those living in our villages.
“He (Deshmukh) personifies humility, compassion and service to the downtrodden. He is a Bharat Ratna in the truest sense!” he said in another tweet.
Praising Hazarika, Modi said his songs and music are admired by people across generations.
“From them radiates the message of justice, harmony and brotherhood,” he said.
“He (Hazarika) popularised India’s musical traditions globally. Happy that the Bharat Ratna has been conferred on Bhupen Da,” he added.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi also congratulated Mukherjee on being named for the Bharat Ratna.
Mukherjee (83), who was also known as the quintessential Man Friday of the Congress, joins the elite club of former presidents Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Rajendra Prasad, Zakir Hussain and V V Giri, who were also awarded the nation’s highest civilian honour.
Expressing gratitude over the honour, Mukherjee said, “I have got more from the people of our great country than I have given to them”.
“It is with a deep sense of humility and gratitude to the people of India that I accept this great honour #BharatRatna bestowed upon me,” he said in a tweet.
Mukherjee became India’s youngest finance minister in 1982 at the age of 47. From 2004, he went on to head three crucial ministries — external affairs, defence and finance — and became the first occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhavan to have this distinction.
Last year, Mukherjee had drawn flak from certain quarters for attending a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) function in Nagpur.
Deshmukh was associated with the RSS from 1928 till his death in Satna, Madhya Pradesh, in 2010 at the age of 94 and was known for starting a chain of RSS-inspired schools throughout India.
He was one of the founder members of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, which later evolved as Bharatiya Janta Party.
He was considered to be one of the architects of the Jai Prakash Narayan movement against Emergency in 1975 and among the key persons in the formation of Janata Party government in 1977.
Born in 1926, Hazarika was a playback singer, lyricist, musician, singer, poet and filmmaker from Assam.
He was awarded Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1987), Padma Shri (1977), Dada Saheb Phalke Award (1992), Padma Bhushan (2001) and Padma Vibhushan (2012-posthumously).
Hazarika did his PhD from Columbia University in 1952. He died in 2011.
The cultural icon also had a brush with politics and had unsuccessfully contested the Guwahati Lok Sabha seat on a BJP ticket in 2004. He was an independent MLA in Assam during 1967-72.
Hazarika gave music in acclaimed Bollywood movies Rudaali, Darmiyaan, Gaja Gamini, Daman and many Assamese hits, including the award winning film ‘Sameli Memsaab’.
With these three recipients, 48 eminent people have been conferred the award so far.