The President’s office announced on Wednesday that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and late freedom fighter-educationist Madan Mohan Malaviya will be conferred India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna.
The communication came a day ahead of Vajpayee’s 90th birthday and Malviya’s 153rd birth anniversary on December 25, which the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre has decided to celebrate as Good Governance Day.
“The President has been pleased to award Bharat Ratna to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya (posthumously) and to Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” a Rashtrapati Bhavan press release said shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi recommended the names.
The BJP had for long been demanding the honour for Vajpayee, a three-time Prime Minister and party patriarch who earned respect across the political spectrum in his nearly five decades of parliamentary experience.
The final decision to honour Vajpayee and Malaviya was reportedly taken at a meeting chaired by Modi with top BJP leaders including Union ministers Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh and party president Amit Shah in attendance.
“Country’s highest honour to these illustrious stalwarts is a fitting recognition of their service to the Nation,” tweeted the Prime Minister.
Vajpayee, considered the BJP’s moderate face, has faded from public life due to age-related illness but is still lauded as a statesman and credited with taking bold initiatives including attempts to bridge Indo-Pak differences.
Malaviya, who founded the Banaras Hindu University in 1916, is remembered for his pivotal role in the fight for Independence and his espousal of Hindu nationalism. A two-time president of the Indian National Congress, he was also among the first leaders of the right-wing Hindu Mahasabha.
Instituted in 1954, the Bharat Ratna is given in recognition of exceptional service or performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavour. The recipient receives a certificate signed by the President and a medallion as the award does not carry a monetary grant.
A file photo of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.(Virendra Singh/HT Photo)
The recommendations are made by the Prime Minister to the President and no formal advocacy is necessary, but the number of awards is restricted to a maximum of three in a particular year.
When the UPA government announced the honour for former cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and scientist CNR Rao last year, the BJP criticised the Congress for ignoring Vajpayee's contribution to the nation.
Politicians cutting across party lines welcomed the choices.
“I am very happy that government has decided to honour Atalji with Bharat Ratna,” said veteran BJP leader LK Advani, Vajpayee’s long-time political colleague.
"We welcome the conferring of Bharat Ratna on Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya and Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. We congratulate,” tweeted Congress general secretary Ajay Maken.
Previous recipients of the award include former Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Morarji Desai, Lal Bahadur Shastri, along with first governor general of free India C Rajagopalachari and former deputy prime minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
Watch | Bharat Ratna for Atal Bihari Vajpayee: Take a quick look at his political journey