Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani, who was appointed BJP’s Prime Minister candidate a month ago, has written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proposing the country's highest honour Bharat Ratna for his senior party colleague and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
As some BJP leaders saw Advani’s letter as a display of his adulation and gratitude for the former prime minister following his appointment with his support, others said he had focused attention on Vajpayee’s case when pressure could mount on the UPA government to consider such names like Marxist veteran Jyoti Basu and DMK chief M. Karunanidhi for this year’s award, which is announced before January 26.
“I would like to propose the name of Atal Bihari Vajpayee for recognition with Bharat Ratna this year. His contribution to our national life is so varied and well-known, and sustained over such a long period, that it bears no reiteration,” Advani said in his letter to the PM, which he sent last Saturday.
Nevertheless, Advani listed 10 points commending his close associate from the Jan Sangh days to justify conferring of the country’s highest civilian honour on the BJP patriarch. He said: “Independent India has not seen many political leaders who have commanded so much pan-Indian respect and adoration, and for such a long time as Vajpayee has.”
Advani did not hesitate to list Vajpayee’s achievements including those that the ruling Congress establishment may not endorse. Advani referred, particularly, to Vajpayee’s success in running a stable coalition for a full term, his fight against authoritarianism and imprisonment during the Emergency, his efforts to normalise relations with Pakistan, making India a nuclear power with Pokhran II and for
his “breathtaking initiatives” like the national highways development project.
Advani regretted that, in many instances, the government felt that there was none suitable to be conferred Bharat Ratna. “Sadly, there have also been instances when the award was not given even when such (suitable) illustrious Indians existed in our midst or when their names were suggested for posthumous recognition,” he said.
Advani stated that since “an illustrious person like Vajpayee is in our midst, he rightly deserved the award.” He said Vajpayee has been prime minister three times and that the period of his tenure is next to Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. He was prime minister from 1998 to 2004. Indira Gandhi was the only prime minister to have received a Bharat Ratna when alive. Rajiv Gandhi was conferred a similar honour posthumously.