NEW DELHI, Feb 9: Using the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in the country, as a political tool, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have re-drawn battle lines in Uttar Pradesh and may also in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana strengthening the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
The move to confer Bharat Ratna to two former prime ministers PV Narasimha Rao and Chaudhary Charan Singh, has brought in fresh accusations against the Gandhi family further weakening the opposition INDIA bloc alliance.
The gesture to award posthumous Bharat Ratna to the farm leader Chaudhary Charan Singh, has all but redrawn political battle-lines in Uttar Pradesh weeks before the general election, with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) seen as on the verge of dumping the Samajwadi Party (and INDIA) to ally with the NDA.
The award comes amid reports of a deal between the BJP and RLD, which was founded by Charan Singh’s son and is now led by his grandson. The RLD reportedly wanted the award as part of its terms to come on-board. Party boss Jayant Chaudhary’s latest comments seemed to emphasise just that – the deal is done.
“What previous governments could not do was today completed by PM Modi’s vision. I would like to once again express my gratitude to PM Modi’s government for encouraging people who aren’t part of the mainstream. It is a big day… and an emotional moment for me,” Mr Chaudhary said. “I want to thank President (Droupadi Murmu), the (BJP) government, and PM Modi… three (Bharat Ratna) awards have been given. Sentiments of the people are connected with this decision.”
Within minutes of Mr Modi announcing Bharat Ratna to Chaudhary Charan Singh on X, Mr Chaudhary reposted the Prime Minister’s message and declared, “Dil Jeet Liya (Won our Hearts). Asked by media persons if his party was moving into the NDA fold, he commented, “Is there anything left? How can I deny your question today?”
However, for the time being he refused to severe his ties with the Samajwadi Party and INDIA bloc and in turn the SP boss Akhilesh Yadav continues, for now, to back his RLD counterpart. “Talking about seats (with the BJP) or votes will make this day less important… when I am congratulating PM Modi… (this) proves he understands the sentiments and character of the nation,” Jayant Chaudhary said.
Sources said the BJP will give the RLD – which has substantial support among Jats and farmers in western UP – two Lok Sabha seats and one Rajya Sabha seat in return for its support. For the BJP (for any party, in fact, looking to form the government at the centre), UP is crucial since it has 80 seats. While the RLD was demanding at least 11 seats from the SP to contest within the INDIA bloc, it is now all set to agree with two Lok Sabha and one Rajya Sabha seat from the BJP.
The western region of UP has 29 of the state’s 80 seats. Seven of those were reserved for the RLD as part of last month’s deal with the Samajwadi Party. The RLD-BJP talks, officially a ‘rumour’ till confirmed, will probably have Akhilesh Yadav and the INDIA bloc on edge. For Mr Yadav the loss will have reduce his (already slim, based on previous elections) chances of defeating the BJP. And for INDIA, it will mean the loss of a second member to Mr Modi.
Mr Yadav, while welcoming the Bharat Ratna for Chaudhary Charan Singh, has refused to comment on the RLD’s possible breakaway, telling reporters this afternoon, “There have been no talks. Whatever it is, (it) is being published in newspapers… am getting information through you.” Yesterday he called Jayant Chaudhary a “very well-educated person… (one who) understands politics.”
The former UP Chief Minister also said he hoped he would not weaken the struggle against the BJP “for the welfare of farmers and prosperity of the state”. His party was more explicit; General Secretary Shivpal Yadav said “Jayant will not go anywhere” and accused the BJP of “spreading confusion.”
The Bharat Ratna to the socialist leader Karpoori Thakur last month has already snatched away the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and his Janata Dal (United) from the INDIA bloc to the NDA fold. Indications are that some political realignment could also be expected in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana with either the ruling YSR Congress or the Telugu Desam Party joining the NDA.
The award to the other former prime minister Narasimha Rao made the Congress leader’s descendants fire all guns at the Gandhi family. His daughter Surabhi Vani Devi (71), a Bharat Rashtra Samithi MLC in the Telangana Legislative Council, said the move had made the whole family proud and happy that he “finally received the recognition he deserves.”
“It is a proud moment for the family. We are all very extremely happy. He has finally received the recognition he deserves. He is remembered and credited for the economic reforms and the great services he rendered to this country, and he deserves the Bharat Ratna – the highest honour,” she said.
Devi, said the honour for her father was a “little delayed”.
“It is a little delayed, we feel, but nonetheless we welcome it. People talk about his contributions to the nation, but we feel that he was ignored. I am very thankful to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for recognising what a great person my father P V Narasimha Rao was. Modi understands that the path of progress and economic reforms that India is on now was set by P V Narasimha Rao, and this is a great recognition for the services he provided to this nation,” she said.
Without mentioning Congress party, to which her father belonged, Devi said family members had been hurt that he was ignored and that his contributions to the nation were brushed aside for many years.
Rao’s grandson, N V Subhash, who is a member of the BJP, did not mince words. “It is an emotional moment for me and the entire family of P V Narasimha Rao. The Congress party not only ignored him, but the Gandhi family made him the scapegoat for all the Congress party’s failures. Leave alone giving him any award, he has been insulted and sidelined. All the benefits that the Congress accrued from him were attributed to the Gandhi family, while all the failures have been attributed to Narasimha Rao. Thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who understands the significance of his contribution to this nation,” he said.
“PM Modi has conferred PV Narasimha Rao even though he belongs to the Congress party. Now, I blame the UPA government, especially the Gandhi family. From 2004 to 2014, when the UPA government was in power at the centre, leave alone Bharat Ratna, leave alone any awards, the Gandhi family was very, very instrumental in making Narasimha Rao a scapegoat for the failures of the Congress party,” Subhash said.
“It’s a pride, it’s an honour for us that at this point of time, at this crucial juncture where Narendra Modi has become the national leader and as the leader of the whole world where he has been constantly recognizing other leaders… I feel very, very emotional at this point in time because we have been expecting that the Bharat Ratna will be delayed,” he added.
The BJP also attacked the Congress for not honouring their own leaders. “Congress did not even let their former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao’s mortal remains to be brought inside their office, the person who laid the foundation of economic liberalisation and a multilingual person. He has now been awarded the Bharat Ratna under PM Modi’s leadership,” said BJP leader KP Maurya.
Union minister Kailash Chaudhary said the Congress thinks only about the Gandhi family. “Today is definitely dedicated to farmers. The messiah of farmers, who spent his life for the farmers of India, Chaudhary Charan Singh, and also MS Swaminathan, an agricultural scientist who produced the Swaminathan report have been honoured… I would thank PM Modi for honouring these great men who have worked extensively for the farmers… Congress did not honour their own prime minister but PM Modi did that. This tells a lot about Congress that they cannot think of anyone except the Gandhi family,” he said.
Meanwhile, Congress MP Rajeev Shukla said the BJP left out Manmohan Singh. “It’s good that Bharat Ratna is to be conferred upon PV Narasimha Rao who brought the biggest economic reform in the country. But, it’s sad that it was Manmohan Singh also who was in that team against whose tenure they (BJP) have brought ‘white paper’… We welcome Bharat Ratna for PV Narasimha Rao, Chaudhary Charan Singh and MS Swaminathan,” he said.