New Delhi, Aug. 10: Suggestions that the Centre is set to announce a Bharat Ratna for Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Independence Day have opened the floodgates on a host of names.
The BJP has long been demanding the highest civilian honour for the former Prime Minister. Last December, it made such a request to President Pranab Mukherjee on Christmas Day, which happens to be Vajpayee’s birthday.
Vajpayee would become the 44th Ratna awardee if such an announcement is made on I-Day. BJP sources said the late Bahujan Samaj Party leader Kanshi Ram was also being considered.
As word spread of the possibility of at least one nomination this year, many politicians — mostly from the Congress — jumped into the fray with their own suggestions on who should be given the award. (See chart below)
According to government guidelines, the “number of annual awards is restricted to a maximum of three in a particular year”. With Sachin Tendulkar and scientist C.N.R. Rao being conferred with the honour in February, rules would have to be tweaked if more than one nominee were to be awarded again this year.
In 1999, however, the NDA government had conferred the Ratna on four personalities: Jayaprakash Narayan, Amartya Sen, Pandit Ravi Shankar and the first Assam chief minister, Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi.
If given the honour, Vajpayee would become the seventh Prime Minister to be awarded the Ratna. All three Prime Ministers from the Nehru-Gandhi family have been awarded — Jawaharlal Nehru in 1955, Indira Gandhi in 1971 and Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
Lal Bahadur Shastri (1966), Morarji Desai (1991) and Gulzarilal Nanda (1997) are also Bharat Ratnas.
|2014: one more to go
|Sachin Tendulkar and (below) CNR Rao
Sources said a Ratna for Kanshi Ram would send a strong political message to Dalits nationwide, and particularly in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP had mobilised a huge proportion of the Dalit vote in that state this general election, which helped it bag 71 of 80 seats.
Since Sachin was awarded the Ratna, demands that hockey great Dhyan Chand be similarly honoured have grown. Dhyan Chand’s name did do the rounds during UPA rule but the PMO opted for Sachin, junior home minister Kiren Rijiju said in Parliament last week.
The UPA had amended rules to recognise exceptional service or performance of the highest order “in any field of human endeavour”, expanding the scope of the award to include sportspersons.
The Congress today demanded that, along with Kanshi Ram, freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, Aligarh Muslim University founder Syed Ahmed Khan and a host of others should be considered for a Ratna.
Some spoke of Subhas Chandra Bose, prompting his grandnephew to say in Calcutta that most of his family members did not approve of the idea.
PTI reported Chandra Kumar Bose as saying that the family would prefer the mystery of Netaji’s disappearance to be solved first.
“Netaji has been missing since 1945. When you award him the Bharat Ratna posthumously, you have to say when he died. But where is the evidence? The best way to honour him is to declassify government files which can reveal the truth behind his disappearance,” Chandra Kumar said.
He said he had spoken to around 60 of Netaji’s family members and none was willing to accept the award. “All of us feel that the Bharat Ratna is not the appropriate award for him. None of us will go and accept the award,” he said.
Sugata Bose, another grandnephew of Netaji, demanded that he be kept out of partisan politics.
“How can Netaji be given a Bharat Ratna after 43 people? How can he be given a Bharat Ratna after Rajiv Gandhi? Netaji’s stature is bigger than the Bharat Ratna. Anyone with a sense of history will agree with me,” the Jadavpur MP said.
“Atal Bihari Vajpayee is a perfect candidate for the Bharat Ratna, not Netaji. Don’t put forward Netaji’s name,” he added.