Bharat Ratna for Vajpayee, Malaviya

Bharat Ratna for Vajpayee, Malaviya

The Centre has decided to confer Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, on former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, the freedom fighter who founded the Benaras Hindu University.

“The President has been pleased to award Bharat Ratna to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya (posthumously) and to Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” said a Rashtrapati Bhavan communique. The decision was taken by the Union Cabinet on Wednesday.

Vajpayee, the first BJP prime minister, was named for the award on the eve of his 90th birthday, which is on Thursday. Both Malaviya and Vajpayee were born on December 25, the former in 1861, and the latter in 1924.

Seen as the BJP’s most acceptable face despite his association with the RSS, Vajpayee revived the Bharatiya Jan Sangh as the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980 after the collapse of the Janata Party experiment in 1980. He got elected to the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of Parliament, 10 times that began in 1957 and concluded in 2009.

Vajpayee, who has been away from the public eye following his illness, was prime minister of the ill-fated 13-day government in 1996. Later, he led the BJP to victory in the 1998 and 1999 polls to lead the NDA government for six years. He was the first non-Congress leader to serve a full five-year term as the prime minister.

Allahabad-born Malaviya was the president of the Indian National Congress for two terms. He was also among the first leaders of the right-wing Hindu Mahasabha. Besides being a freedom fighter and politician, he was also an eminent educationist. The Banaras Hindu University was founded by him in 1916.

Deccan Herald was the first to report on December 10 that the Modi government wanted to honour Vajpayee with Bharat Ratna. A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that Vajpayee’s birthday would be observed as the “Good Governance Day” each year.

With Thursday’s announcement, the number of those bestowed with Bharat Ratna went up to 45. Last year, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and scientist C N R Rao were chosen by the UPA government for the honour. At that time, the BJP had demanded that Vajpayee be named too. Cutting across party lines, political leaders welcomed the decision to confer Bharat Ratna on Vajpayee and Malaviya.

Modi said the award to the “illustrious stalwarts” of the nation was a “fitting recognition” of their service to the country. The Congress, too, welcomed the move and hoped that the NDA government will follow the path of “Raj Dharm” and secularism shown by the two leaders. Vajpayee’s long-time political fellow-traveller L K Advani said he was happy with the Centre’s decision. “I am very happy that government has decided to honour Atalji with Bharat Ratna.”

Describing Vajpayee as one of the greatest communicators that India has ever seen, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said he made his presence felt at the national level and was committed to peace in South Asia.  External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Vajpayee at his residence soon after the announcement.

Former Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar congratulated Vajpayee and said the UPA government should have conferred the award on the former prime minister.

JD(U) president Sharad Yadav also hailed the decision saying, “I have been associated with Atalji for many years and even being in BJP, he respected the composite culture of India.”

Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien said his party and its chief Mamata Banerjee have a “very special bond” with Vajpayee.

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