New Delhi: Former President Pranab Mukherjee, Bharatiya Jana Sangh leader Nanaji Deshmukh and singer Bhupen Hazarika were on Friday conferred the country’s highest civilian award Bharat Ratna. The Bharat Ratna has been conferred after a gap of four years. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and founder of Banaras Hindu University Madan Mohan Malviya were given the award by the Narendra Modi government in 2015.
In an official statement, the government said Deshmukh and Hazarika were conferred the award posthumously. Mukherjee, fondly known as ‘Pranab Da’, was the president between 2012 and 2017. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Mukherjee is an outstanding statesman of present times who has served the nation selflessly and tirelessly for decades, leaving a strong imprint on the nation’s growth trajectory. “His (Mukherjee) wisdom and intellect have few parallels. Delighted that he has been conferred the Bharat Ratna,” Modi tweeted.
Referring to Deshmukh, Modi said his stellar contribution towards rural development showed the way for a new paradigm of empowering those living in our villages. “He (Deshmukh) personifies humility, compassion and service to the downtrodden. He is a Bharat Ratna in the truest sense!,” he tweeted. Praising Hazarika, Modi said his songs and music are admired by people across generations. “From them radiates the message of justice, harmony and brotherhood. “He (Hazarika) popularised India’s musical traditions globally. Happy that the Bharat Ratna has been conferred on Bhupen Da,” the Prime Minister tweeted.
The 83-year-old Mukherjee, who was also known as the quintessential Man Friday of the Congress, joins the elite club with Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Rajendra Prasad, Zakir Hussain and V V Giri who had been conferred the coveted award. Mukherjee became India’s youngest finance minister in 1982 at the age of 47. From 2004, he went on to head three crucial ministries – External Affairs, Defence and Finance -and became the first occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhavan to have this distinction.
Last year, Mukherjee had drawn flak from certain quarters for attending an RSS function in Nagpur. Deshmukh was associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh since 1928 till his death in Satna, Madhya Pradesh, in 2010 at the age of 94 and was known for starting the chain of RSS inspired schools throughout India. He was one of the founder members of Bharatiya Jan Sangh which later evolved as Bharatiya Janta Party.
He was considered to be one of the architects of the Jai Prakash Narain movement against Emergency in 1974 and among the key persons in the formation of Janata Party government in 1977. Born in 1926, Hazarika was an playback singer, lyricist, musician, singer, poet and film-maker from Assam. A recipient of Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1987), Padmashri (1977), Padmabhushan (2001) and Padma Vibhushan (2012-posthumously), Hazarika was also awarded with Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 1992. Hazarika did his Phd from Columbia University in 1952. He died in 2011.
The cultural icon also had a brush with politics and had unsuccessfully contested the Guwahati Lok Sabha seat on a BJP ticket in 2004. He was an independent MLA in Assam during 1967-72. Hazarika gave music in Bollywood movies Rudaali, Darmiyaan, Gaja Gamini, Daman and many Assamese hits, including award winning film ‘Sameli Memsaab’. With these three recipients, 48 eminent people have been conferred the award so far.