Pranab, Nanaji, Hazarika chosen for Bharat Ratna

Pranab, Nanaji, Hazarika chosen for Bharat Ratna

Pranab Mukherjee. PTI file photo

Former President Pranab Mukherjee, late Sangh ideologue Nanaji Deshmukh and late music maestro Dr Bhupen Hazarika were on Friday chosen for Bharat Ratna, the country's highest civilian award.

The announcement came on the eve of Republic Day with the Rashtrapati Bhavan issuing a communique in the night. 

"The President has been pleased to award Bharat Ratna to the following: 1. Nanaji Deshmukh (posthumously) 2. Dr Bhupen Hazarika (posthumously) 3. Pranab Mukherjee," the communique said. 

So far, the government has awarded Bharat Ratna to 45 people. After Narendra Modi government took over in 2014, freedom fighter and founder of Banaras Hindu University Madan Mohan Malavya and former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee were chosen for the highest civilian award in 2015.

Mukherjee is sixth former President to receive Bharat Ratna. S Radhakrishnan won the award in 1954 before he became president while country's first president Rajendra Prasad was chosen for the award in 1962 after his retirement. 

Zakir Hussain won the award in 1963 before he became the president while V V Giri too won the award in 1975 after his retirement. APJ Abdul Kalam was another former president who won the award in 1997, five years before he became the forst citizen of the country.

The choice of Mukherjee, a quintessential Congressman, for the highest civilian award is also seen as an interesting move by the BJP-led government as it comes six months after he graced an RSS function as chief guest at its headquarters. 

Mukherjee hails from West Bengal where the ruling BJP is nursing high hopes in the Lok Sabha polls. 

Deshmukh, one of the prominent Sangh leaders and former Rajya Sabha MP, was earlier honoured with Padma Vibhushan. He worked as an RSS pracharak and then worked in Jan Sangh, which later turned into BJP. 

The musician Hazarika, who died in November 2011, was an Indian playback singer, lyricist, musician, singer, poet and film-maker from Assam. He had earlier unsuccessfully contested Lok Sabha elections in 2004 on a BJP ticket.

The award to Hazarika comes at a time the BJP is on the backfoot in the north-east, especially in Assam where the musician an icon.

Soon after the announcement, Modi tweeted, "Nanaji Deshmukh's stellar contribution towards rural development showed the way for a new paradigm of empowering those living in our villages. He personifies humility, compassion and service to the downtrodden. He is a Bharat Ratna in the truest sense!"

On Hazarika, the Prime Minister said, "the songs and music of Bhupen Hazarika are admired by people across generations. From them radiates the message of justice, harmony and brotherhood. He popularised India's musical traditions globally. Happy that the Bharat Ratna has been conferred on Bhupen Da."

Modi described Mukherjee as an "outstanding statesman of our times" who served the nation "selflessly and tirelessly" for decades, leaving a "strong imprint" on the nation's growth trajectory. "His wisdom and intellect have few parallels. Delighted that he has been conferred the Bharat Ratna," he tweeted. 

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