New Delhi: Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and freedom fighter Madan Mohan Malaviya will be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, the government announced today.
“The President has been pleased to award Bharat Ratna to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya (posthumously) and to Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” said a statement from President Pranab Mukherjee’s office, shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi recommended the names.
Mr Vajpayee, a three-time prime minister, is considered the gold standard of leadership in the BJP and is popular across party lines. He will be the first leader from the country’s political right to be given a Bharat Ratna.
“Atal ji means so much to everyone. A guide, inspiration & giant among giants,” tweeted PM Modi.
The announcement comes a day before the birthday of the charismatic leader,
who turns 90 on Thursday, Christmas Day. The government is celebrating the day as ‘good governance day’.
A stream of top BJP leaders called on the veteran at his home in Delhi today. He has stayed away from public life for the past few years because of his health.
Senior BJP leader LK Advani, a long-time political associate of Mr Vajpayee, said he has a “blemish-less record and deserves the Bharat Ratna.”
The BJP, which took power in May, has long demanded the Bharat Ratna for Mr Vajpayee. The party had strongly criticised the previous Congress-led government when cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar and eminent scientist CNR Rao were chosen last year for the award but Mr Vajpayee wasn’t.
A Bharat Ratna for Dr Madan Mohan Malaviya, the freedom icon and educationist popularly known as ‘Mahamana’, was one of the promises made by PM Modi during his the campaign for the national election.
The Banaras Hindu University, founded by Dr Malaviya, is in the Prime Minister’s constituency Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.
43 people have been honoured till now with the Bharat Ratna, which recognizes “exceptional service or performance of the highest order.”