Former President Pranab Mukherjee, Bharatiya Jana Sangh leader Nanaji Deshmukh and singer Bhupendra Kumar Hazarika were conferred the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian honour, by President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday. Deshmukh and Hazarika were awarded posthumously.
At the investiture ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, Mukherjee received the honour himself, while Dekhmukh’s relative Virenderjeet Singh received it on his behalf, and Hazarika’s was received by his son Tej.
Deshmukh worked at the grassroots to prepare the political foundation of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh during the 1960s and ’70s. He had collaborated with leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan against the Emergency under the Indira Gandhi government.
Rashtrapati Bhavan tweeted: “Deshmukh was an eminent social activist who devoted himself to the welfare of the society and made immense contribution in the fields of education, healthcare and rural development.”
Mukherjee worked closely with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was among the top leaders of the Congress since early 1980s, and headed the ministries of finance, external affairs and defence. He won the election for President in 2012.
Mukherjee accepted an invitation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to deliver an annual lecture at their headquarters in Nagpur last year.
While his decision was criticised by sections opposed to the BJP and RSS, other sections praised Mukherjee for his decision to engage with ideologically divergent people.
“A statesman and one of India’s most respected political leaders, Shri Pranab Mukherjee served the nation in various capacities in his long political career spanning over five decades.” Rashtrapati Bhavan tweeted.
On Hazarika, Rashtrapati Bhavan tweeted that he was a “renowned singer, lyricist, musician, poet and filmmaker, Bhupen Da popularised India’s musical traditions globally.”
Hazarika joined the list of stalwarts who were awarded Bharat Ratna in the field of music, such as M S Subbulakshmi, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Lata Mangeshkar, Bismillah Khan and Bhimsen Joshi. Hazarika will be the second person from Assam, after Gopinath Bordoloi, to be conferred the honour.
Thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said, “The bohemian artist worked with humanitarian sensibilities to foster goodwill and amity in the society. His songs reflected the voice of the voiceless. This step has fulfilled a long-pending demand and aspiration of the people of Assam.”