Bharat Ratna row: Prasad attacks Cong with family jibe

Union Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad addresses a press conference in Nagpur, Maharashtra on Wednesday. (PTI Photo)

Justifying the Bharat Ratna demand for V D Savarkar raised by the Maharashtra BJP in its poll manifesto, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday attacked the Congress for opposing the highest civilian honour for such "rashtra bhaktas" (patriots).

Addressing a press conference here in Maharashtra, he also accused the Congress of ensuring that only the "family members" get the highest civilian honour.

Releasing its manifesto for the October 21 Maharashtra assembly elections on Tuesday, the state BJP raised the demand for Bharat ratna for the Hindutva icon along with 19th Century social reformists Jyotiba Phule and his wife Savitribai Phule.

Prasad alleged that Congress did not bestow the Bharat Ratna to 'Sardar' Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Home Minister of the country, andDalit icon Babasaheb Ambedkar earlier.

"Both these leaders were given the highest civilian honour (posthumously) when Narasimha Rao, who didn't belong to the family, was prime minister of the country," he added.

"Why the Congress is troubled with the BJP's demand for Bharat Ratna for Savarkar in its manifesto? The Congress always gathered 'Bharat Ratna' among the family only (sic)," he said.

Reacting to the Maharashtra BJP's poll manifesto, the Congress had said: "If the BJP government was considering the Bharat Ratna demand, then God save this country."

Justifying the highest civilian honour for Savarkar, Prasad said the former was a "rashtrabhakta" (patriot) who had spent 11 years of his life in the Andaman jail. "Savarkar had never asked anything in return from the country," he added.

"Veer Savarkar, as V D Savarkar is popularly known, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule have given so much to the Society. Such nationalists should certainly get Bharat Ratnas," Prasad said.

He alleged the Congress always tried to keep the Bharat Ratna honour in the "family" only, an apparent reference to the Gandhis.

"Vallabhbhai Patel died in 1950 but Bharat Ratna was announced for him only in 1991 when Narasimha Rao was prime minister. If not Rao, this work (honouring Patel) would have been done by the NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

"It is good that former PMs Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajiv Gandhi, and Zakir Hussian (the third president of India) were given 'Bharat Ratna'. But why did Patel not given the honour earlier? It was because he used to oppose Nehru," Prasad alleged.

The BJP MP also said Bharat Ratna was announced for freedom fighter Maulana Abul Kalam Azad only in 1992 when Rao was PM and for B R Ambedkar under V P Singh government in 1990 (posthumously).

"The Congress needs to know its past before objecting to the BJP's demand for Bharat Ratna for Veer Savarkar. I will be happy if these issues come up in the Maharashtra assembly elections," said Prasad.

He also took a dig at the Congress leadership for questionning the BJP for raising the issue of revocation of Article 370 in the assembly polls.

"(Scrapping of) Article 370 is a national issue. Why it should not be raised at the hustings? Let Congress leaders recount one good benefit of Article 370, when it was in force, for Jammu and Kashmir and the nation," Prasad said.

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