New Delhi: The government on Friday night sprang a surprise picking former President Pranab Mukherjee, a Congressman all his life, for the Bharat Ratna, country’s highest civilan honour, along with Nanaji Deshmukh, one of the founders of BJP, and eminent Assamese poet and musician Bhupen Hazarika, choices that were perceived to be made with an eye on the coming Lok Sabha elections.
“The President has been pleased to award Bharat Ratna to the following: Shri Nanaji Deshmukh (posthumously), Dr Bhupen Hazarika (posthumously) and Shri Pranab Mukherjee,” a Rashtrapati Bhawan press communique said. The last time the highest civilian honour was conferred was on former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya (posthumously) in 2015, the Rasahtrapati Bhawan said in a press communique on the eve of 70th Republic Day.
So far 45 eminent personalities have been conferred with the Bharat Ratna and the total goes up to 48 with Friday’s announcement.
The surprise pick among the three was Mukherjee, who demitted office of President in 2017, and had a good equation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the two-and-a-half years he was at the helm in Rashtrapati Bhawan during NDA government. His selection was hailed by various leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
The government also released 112 names for the Padma awards including industry veteran A.M. Naik of L&T group, President of Djibouti Ismail Guelleh, who extended support for rescusing Indians from war hit Yemen, folk singer Teejan Bai and Marathi theatre legend B.M. Purandare for the second highest civilan honour Padma Vibhushan.
In all, there were four Padma Vibhushan, 14 Padma Bhushans and 94 Padma Shri.
Former Jharkhand Chief Minister Kariya Munda, Malyalam actor Mohan Lal, late journalist Kuldeep Nayyar, S Nambi Naraynan, the space scientist who was jailed on trumped up espionage charges, mountainerring personality Bechandri Pal, former CAG V.K. Shunglu and BJP MP Hukum Dev Narayan Yadav for Padma Bhushan awardees.
The choice of Mukherjee, who hails from West Bengal, and the late Hazarika, an eminent son of Assam, is in tune with the BJP’s mission of cornering a good chunk of seats in the East and the northeastern parts of the country where the Citizenship Amendment Bill has created problems for the BJP. Mukherjee’s choice also indicates that he could still play a political role after the Lok Sabha elections in case of a hung Parliament.
Mukherjee (84), who reached new heights in political career as a Congressman, had also stirred a controversy last year when he attended an RSS event at its Nagpur headquarters.
Hazarika who died in 2011 at the age of 85 years, was a poet, playback singer, lyricist and filmmaker all rolled into one, and his works were marked by humanity and universal brotherhood. He had introduced culture and folk music of Assam into Hindi cinema at the national level.
The third choice of Bharat Ratna for this year, Nanaji Deshmukh, was an RSS pracharak who rose to become in-charge of Uttar Pradesh in the sixties, and was later one of the architects of the BJP in the 1980s.
Deshmukh had founded the Deendayal Research Institute (DRI) in 1972 to validate the philosophy of Integral Humanism propounded by Deendayal Upadhyaya and after retirement from active politics, he initiated the Chitrakoot Project, a campaign for self-reliance. He died in 2010 at the age of 94.
In the Padma Shri category, Sikh riot activist H.S. Phoolka, former Akali Dal minister S.S. Dhinsha, author Gita Mehta, who is also the sister of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, former Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, actors Manoj Bajpayee, Prabhu Deva, late Kader Khan, singer Shankar Mahadevan, cricketer Gautam Gambhir, football player Sunil Chetri, eminent surgeon Sandeep Guleria have been picked.
In all 94 personalities were picked in the Padma Shri category, that also included wrestler Bajrang Punia, archery expert B.D. Laishram and spiritual personality Bangaru Adigalar of Tamil Nadu.