With today’s announcement, the Modi government has announced 5 Bharat Ratnas in a span of one month.Earlier this year, Bharat Ratna was conferred on ex-Bihar chief minister Karpoori Thakoor and BJP stalwart L K Advani. In all, the NDA government has conferred 10 Bharat Ratnas between 2014 and 2024.
The announcement of these awards in an election year has led to allegations of politics guiding the selection of awardees. Congress leader Udit Raj took a swipe at the government and said: “The BJP should announce Bharat Ratna wherever it is finding difficult to win Lok Sabha elections.” In another post, the Congress leader questioned why Kanshi Ram was not given the Bharat Ratna award.
Two of the awardees named today – P V Narasimha Rao and M S Swaminathan are from south, a region where the BJP is trying hard to increase its foothold in these Lok Sabha elections. While the BJP is already a dominant force in Karnataka with victory in 25 out of 28 Lok Sabha seats, the saffron party has a long way to go in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh where it could not win any seat in the the 2019 national elections. In Telangana, the BJP won 4 out of the 17 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.
Narasimha Rao, who served as prime minister of Congress government from 1991 to 1996, was born in Laknepalli village in Warangal district of Telangana in 1921. He was elected to legislative assembly from Manthani near Karimnagar in undivided Andhra Pradesh for the first time. In selecting Rao, the Centre has also sent across a strong message to the Congress, which had a turbulent relations with the former Prime Minister. Narasimha Rao’s family heaped praise on Prime Minister Modi for the honour and slammed Congress for ignoring his contributions to the country.
Narasimha Rao’s brother PV Manohar Rao said “Narasimha Rao should have been awarded Bharat Ratna 20 years ago but Manmohan Singh-led UPA couldn’t do it. Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister of Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) for 10 years but it kept brushing the issue under carpet. Cong govt didn’t give award, despite being in power for 10 years. It’s no secret that UPA government functioned as per the diktats of certain people in the party.”
“It never announced any award or honour despite Narasimha Rao’s ground-breaking leadership in taking the nation forward,” he added.
BRS MLC and daughter of PV Narasimha Rao, Surabhi Vani Devi, also expressed her happiness even as she targeted Congress for ignoring her father.
“This is a very happy moment. Great recognition. I am so excited. If you go through the days–5 years from 1991 to 1996–that was a very crucial time in Indian history, but he has solved the problems. It is surprising that Rao was not in BJP, from the beginning he has worked with the Congress but BJP has recognised him with Bharat Ratna. This is a great moment. We must appreciate,” Surabhi said.
Leaders across political divide have welcomed the Centre’s announcement in both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Sonia Gandhi, who did not share the best of relations with Narsimha Rao, also welcomed the government’s decision. Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge welcomed the announcement and said his party lauds the vision, hard work and exceptional legacies of these national icons.
Kharge said former Congress president Rao’s contribution to nation building was tremendous. 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, Kharge said.
Rao also made significant contributions to the country’s nuclear programme and a number of foreign policy achievements, including the “Look East” policy, marked his tenure as the prime minister, he noted. Rao’s vital role in the prosperity and development of India shall always be cherished, the Congress president said.
Chaudhary Charan Singh’s selection for Bharat Ratna has the potential to alter the political equations in Uttar Pradesh. Charan Singh’s grandson, Jayant Choudhary not just heaped praise on PM Modi for this decision, but also hinted at the end of its five-year-old alliance with Samajwadi Party in the state. When asked if Bharat Ratna to his grandfather would draw the RLD chief closer to the BJP, Jayant said “How do I say no to this question today. PM Modi’s vision and his decision has won my heart.”
Clearly, while BJP’s political rivals may allege that politics played a role in the announcement of these awards, none of them, despite their political differences, would question the merits of those awarded in an election year.