NEW DELHI, Jan 23: The former Bihar Chief Minister Karpoori Thakur was awarded the nation’s highest honour, Bharat Ratna, posthumously by the President of India Droupadi Murmu on Tuesday evening, 35 years after his death on February 17, 1988.
Dubbed Jan Nayak by many in the state, Karpoori Thakur served as the Chief Minister of Bihar for a short while — from December 1970 to June 1971 and from December 1977 to April 1979.
The Centre’s recognition for the state’s first non-Congress Chief Minister meets a long-standing demand of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his Janata Dal (United).
Coming ahead of the general election, it is seen a move to please the Chief Minister of a state that has 40 parliamentary seats and has an on-again-off-again relationship with the BJP. Following the announcement, Mr Kumar said, “The highest honour to late Karpoori Thakur ji on his 100th birth anniversary will create positive sentiments among the Dalits, deprived and neglected sections.”
An ally for decades, Mr Kumar had broken away from the NDA ahead of the 2014 general elections but returned to the fold in 2017. Less than two years ago, he walked out again, forming government with a new alliance that has all parties of Bihar — small and big — on board.
That move had left then BJP out in the cold, with a fractured Lok Janshakti party for company. The BJP’s isolation factor has cemented the spin on today’s events.
Karpoori Thakur hailed from Other Backward Castes. Many see it as part of the BJP’s attempt to gain allegiance of this section which has so far been loyal to Nitish Kumar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a post, described Thakur as “a beacon of social justice.”
Karpoori Thakur had been a mentor to many current generation leaders of the state, including Nitish Kumar and his ally Lalu Prasad Yadav, the RJD president. During his short stints as the Chief Minister, Karpoori Thakur imposed a total ban on alcohol in Bihar but this was resisted by Dalits whose employment was dependent on the toddy trade.
He was popularly known as Jan Nayak (people’s leader) – someone who devoted his life to socially backward communities in Bihar. His tenure is also best remembered for implementation of the recommendations of Mungeri Lal Commission, whereby quotas for backward classes were introduced in the state, much before the 1990s’ Mandal Commission changed the national political contours.