Bharat Ratna for ex-PMs Narasimha Rao, Charan Singh, agronomist M S Swaminathan; announces PM Modi

NEW DELHI, Feb 9 : Former prime ministers P V Narasimha Rao, who is widely recognised for ushering in economic reforms in the 1990s, and Chaudhary Charan Singh, a champion of farmers’ cause, and Green Revolution pioneer Dr M S Swaminathan will be conferred with the Bharat Ratna, it was announced on Friday.

The announcement was made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, days after the Centre named former Bihar chief minister Karpoori Thakur, a champion of backward empowerment, and L K Advani, a founding BJP member credited with charting the course of its rise through the 1990s, for Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian honour.

At five, one more than the four announced in 1999, this is the maximum number of Bharat Ratnas announced for a year. With this, the number of recipients of the prestigious award, instituted in 1954, has risen to 53,

Four of the five awards this year are posthumous. Advani, 96, is the only one alive.

Prime Minister Modi, who took to microblogging platform X to make the announcement, lauded the contributions made by the three awardees.

Later, the Rashtrapati Bhavan in a press communique said the President has been pleased to award Bharat Ratna to the three eminent persons.

Modi said Rao’s visionary leadership was instrumental in making India economically advanced, laying a solid foundation for the country’s prosperity and growth. Rao, a Congress veteran, was prime minister from 1991 to 1996.

He also said the dedication of Singh to farmers and commitment to democracy during the Emergency inspires the country. The then prime minister Indira Gandhi had imposed Emergency in 1975. Singh, a Jat leader from western Uttar Pradesh who was prime minister in 1979-80, was one of the pioneers of anti-Congress politics.

Modi also said it is a matter of immense joy that his government  is conferring the Bharat Ratna on Swaminathan in recognition of his monumental contributions to the nation in agriculture and farmers’ welfare. The honour for Swaminathan comes against the backdrop of protests by farmers in the NCR region and plans for similar stir in the coming days.

With national awards often conveying a message beyond the public contributions made by their recipients, the Modi government’s pick of five of them–three of the four politicians in the list firmly belonging to the non-BJP sphere–for Bharat Ratna in an election year is no exception. Lok Sabha polls are expected to be held in April-May.

The government’s move on Friday to recognise two stalwart politicians–Rao and Singh–who came from non-BJP backgrounds is resonant with political and social messaging. It is expected to boost the BJP’s efforts to present itself as a party which represents pan-India interests and aspirations and recognises leading people in different fields.

Rao’s admirers have long argued that the Congress veteran has not been given his due by the party due to his less than warm relations with the Nehru-Gandhi family, a point often made by BJP leaders too.

As the country’s first and only full-term prime minister from south India, Rao, a Telugu, occupies a special place in the region. Rao passed away in 2004.

The honour for Charan Singh comes at a time when the RLD, led by his grandson Jayant Chaudhary, is believed to be in talks with the BJP for an alliance for the Lok Sabha polls. Singh died in 1987.

Chaudhary, who is the Rashtriya Lok Dal(RLD) president, said the Centre won his heart with the announcement of Bharat Ratna to his grandfather. “Dil Jeet Liya,” he posted on X.

Leaders cutting across party lines welcomed the Centre’s announcement.

“I see it positively. The truth is that they should have been honoured long ago but, for the first time, a government has thought about it.” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told reporters.

BJP President J P Nadda said the decision showed that the Modi government appreciates people’s contributions rising above party lines.

The Congress said the three awardees were, are and will always be “Bharat ke Ratna” as their contribution was unprecedented.

Asked about the Bharat Ratna announcements, specifically for Rao, former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, in a brief response outside Parliament, said, “I welcome them… Why not?”

Paying rich tributes to Rao, Modi said he served the country extensively in various capacities as a distinguished scholar and statesman.

He said Rao is equally remembered for the work he did as the chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh, a Union minister and as lawmaker in Parliament and assembly for many years.

“His visionary leadership was instrumental in making India economically advanced, laying a solid foundation for the country’s prosperity and growth,” Modi said.

“Narasimha Rao Garu’s tenure as prime minister was marked by significant measures that opened India to global markets, fostering a new era of economic development.”

Modi said Rao’s contributions to India’s foreign policy, language and education sectors underscore his multifaceted legacy as a leader who not only steered India through critical transformations but also enriched its cultural and intellectual heritage.

Rao’s extended family members thanked the prime minister for looking beyond party lines. His daughter and BRS MLC Vani Devi said although the award has come “slightly” late, it’s ok because it is the highest civilian honour.

The family members burst crackers and distributed sweets at CVRN Colony in Karimnagar in Telangana.

Referring to Charan Singh, Modi said it is his government’s fortune that the former premier is being honoured with the Bharat Ratna and that it is dedicated to his incomparable contributions to the country.

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, Modi added.

Hapur, the home district of  Charan Singh, erupted in celebrations.

“Women here are celebrating by singing songs and people are distributing seats on this happy occasion,” said Sumer Singh, a resident of the Noorpur village where Singh was born. Baghpat, the political home turf of Charan Singh, also witnessed celebrations.

Modi said Swaminathan’s visionary leadership has not only transformed Indian agriculture but also ensured the nation’s food security and prosperity, noting that he knew him closely and always valued his insights and inputs.The agronomist passed away last year.

“He 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,” the prime minister said.

Swaminathan’s daughter Dr Soumya Swaminathan, a former Chief Scientist and former Deputy Director General at the WHO,  said she was “proud and happy” that her father’s work has been recognised.

At the same time, she said that it was the farmers’ love for him that meant a lot to her father. (PTI )