In a break from the pattern of conferring the Bharat Ratna to ideological fellow travellers of the party in power, the NDA government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday announced the Bharat Ratna for former president and Congress veteran Pranab Mukherjee.
Bharatiya Jan Sangh leader Nanaji Deshmukh and singer Bhupen Hazarika will also be conferred the Bharat Ratna posthumously. The political significance of the awards this year is evident from the government’s decision to confer the Padma Bhushan on the late Kuldip Nayar, The Indian Express.
Bharat Ratna steps over political divide: Pranab and Nanaji editor who was imprisoned during the Emergency, and scientist S Nambi Narayan who was wrongly implicated in the ISRO spy case, and the Padma Shri for H S Phoolka, the face of justice for victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The Bharat Ratna awards are being announced after a four-year gap. It was last conferrd in 2015 when the Centre honoured former Prime Minister and BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee and founder of Banaras Hindu University Madan Mohan Malviya.
While Bhupen Hazarika joins the list of names from the fields of academia, science and technology, music, film, industry, social service and sports, Deshmukh and Mukherjee are politicians from divergent political ideologies.
While Mukherjee is from the Nehruvian socialist political thought, Deshmukh worked tirelessly to nurture the Hindu nationalist political ideology, which has now bloomed into the BJP.
Deshmukh toiled at the grassroots to prepare the political foundation of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh in the 1960s and 70s and is widely revered within the Hindu nationalist pantheon. Deshmukh worked with the likes of Jayaprakash Narayan against the Indira Gandhi government and the Emergency in 1975.
Mukherjee, in contrast, worked closely with Indira Gandhi and has been among the top leaders of the Congress since the early 80s. There has been a deep Nehruvian socialism imprint on his politics and policy prescriptions. Widely considered as the Prime Minister India never had, Mukherjee won the presidential elections in 2012 with the support of Congress and parties opposed to the BJP.
Incidentally, he took the Congress by surprise when he accepted the invitation by the RSS to deliver an annual lecture at their headquarters in Nagpur last year. While his decision drew criticism from sections ideologically opposed to the BJP and RSS, the ruling establishment praised Mukherjee for his decision to engage with those who differed ideologically.
Bhupen Hazarika joins the pantheon of the legendary M S Subbulakshmi, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Lata Mangeshkar, Bismillah Khan and Bhimsen Joshi in the field of music who have been awarded the Bharat Ratna so far. Hazarika will be the second person from Assam, after Gopinath Bardoloi, to be conferred the honour.