NEW DELHI, Feb 9: The Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday announced Bharat Ratna award to three more illustrious sons of the country, two former prime ministers PV Narasimha Rao and Chaudhary Charan Singh as well as Green Revolution pioneer M. S. Swaminathan. This is in addition to the highest civilian award already conferred on the socialist leader Karpoori Thakur and the former deputy prime minister LK Advani during this year.
A Rashtrapati Bhavan communique made the announcement with Mr Modi lauding Narasimha Rao’s liberalisation policies, Mr Charan Singh’s championing of the cause of farmers and agricultural scientist M. S. Swaminathan’s services in the field.
Usually, three Bharat Ratna awards are given in a year. The Bharat Ratna is India’s highest civilian honour, and this year’s tally of five awardees, one more than the four announced in 1999, which was the maximum number of Bharat Ratnas announced for a year.
Narasimha Rao, who was India’s Prime Minister in a Congress led government between 1991-96, is largely credited with unshackling the Indian economy following the liberalisation of policies. He was also the Prime Minister when Babri Masjid was demolished by kar sewaks in 1992, which combined with the fact that his premiership was the first full term by a non-Gandhi Prime Minister led to a complicated relationship with the current leadership of the party. He was also the first Indian Prime Minister from Southern India.
Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and party president Mallikarjun Kharge both said they welcomed the announcement. “Asked about the Bharat Ratna announcements, specifically for Mr Rao, Ms Gandhi, in a brief response outside Parliament, said, “I welcome them… why not?”
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, in a post on X, said: “On the behalf of Indian National Congress, we welcome the Bharat Ratna being conferred to Shri P V Narasimha Rao, Chaudhary Charan Singh and Dr M S Swaminathan. Former Prime Minister and former Congress president, Shri P V Narasimha Rao has tremendously contributed to nation building. Under his government, India embarked on a transformative journey with a series of economic reforms that played a pivotal role in shaping the middle class for generations to come.”
Describing Mr Rao’s legacy, Mr Modi said, “His visionary leadership was instrumental in making India economically advanced, laying a solid foundation for the country’s prosperity and growth.”
For Chaudhary Charan Singh, Mr Modi wrote, “Be it as an MLA, as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister or the country’s Home Minister, he always speeded up the nation-building exercise and also stood strongly against the Emergency. Mr Singh’s dedication to farmers and commitment to democracy during the Emergency inspires the country.”
The award to former Prime Minister Charan Singh, Jat and farm leader, who was at the helm between 1979-80 at the fag end of the first non-Congress government in India comes in as the BJP is negotiating with his grandson, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Jayant Choudhary for an alliance for the General Elections. Mr Chaudhary posted this reaction on “X” when the announcement was made: “Dil Jeet liya” (You have won my heart).
The Modi government has often looked across the political aisles in awarding State honours, with former President Pranab Mukherjee and socialist leader Karpoori Thakur as examples. The attempt has been to not just do the correct messaging, politically, but to also show up in sharp relief the accusation that the BJP has often made against the Congress, that it is incapable of looking beyond the Gandhi family and their loyalists for these honours.
For agro-scientist, M. S. Swaminathan, Prime Minister Modi said that he had “played a pivotal role in helping India achieve self-reliance in agriculture during challenging times and made outstanding efforts towards modernizing Indian agriculture. We also recognise his invaluable work as an innovator and mentor and encouraging learning and research among several students.”
Mr Swaminathan’s daughter and former chief scientist and former Deputy Director General at the World Health Organisation, Dr Soumya Swaminathan said she was “proud and happy” that her father’s work has been recognised with the highest civilian honour in the country. At the same time, she also said it was the farmers’ love for him that meant a lot to him. Stating that her father has been recognised for his lifetime of contributions to agriculture, but more importantly to farmers’ welfare in the country and also to the welfare of the poorest in society and the most vulnerable, she said it was a matter of “pride and satisfaction” that her father’s whole life’s work has been recognised by the Government of India and the Prime Minister.
Four of the five awards this year are posthumous. Mr Advani, 96, is the only one who has been awarded in his lifetime.
Mr Narasihma Rao was born in 1921 in Andhra Pradesh’s Karimnagar and studied at Osmania University in Hyderabad, Bombay University, and Nagpur University. An agriculturist and an advocate, he also served as the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh.
He was also the Minister for External Affairs from January 14, 1980, to July 18, 1984, the Minister of Home Affairs from July 1984 to December 1984, and the Minister of Defence from December 1984 to September 1985.
Born in Meerut in Uttar Pradesh in 1902, Charan Singh served as the prime minister from July 28, 1979 to January 14, 1980. He was first elected to the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly in 1937 from Chhaprauli. He represented the constituency in 1946, 1952, 1962 and 1967. He also served as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh twice, first in 1967 and then in 1970.
Popularly known as the father of the green revolution, MS Swaminathan was born in 1925. He obtained a BSc degree in Zoology from the Maharajas College in Thiruvananthapuram, and also in Agricultural Sciences from the Coimbatore Agricultural College. He also got his MSc degree in Agricultural Sciences (specializing in genetics and plant breeding) from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), and PhD degree from Cambridge University, UK.
Bharat Ratna was instituted in 1954 and any person without distinction of race, occupation, position, or sex is eligible for these awards. It is awarded in recognition of exceptional service or performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavour. The recommendations for the award are made by the Prime Minister himself to the President. On conferment of Bharat Ratna, the recipient receives a Sanad (certificate) signed by the President and a medallion.