On the eve of the Republic Day, the Rashtrapati Bhavan announced conferring the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award, on Bhupen Hazarika and Nanaji Deshmukh, both posthumously, and also on former president Pranab Mukherjee.
This is the second instance of the Narendra Modi government conferring the award during its tenure. It conferred the award on freedom fighter Madan Mohan Malviya and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2015.
The announcement of the awards came close to the LS polls. The BJP has been planning to consolidate its gains in Assam, and improve its performance significantly in West Bengal. While Hazarika is an Assamese icon, Mukherjee — the first Bengali to be the President of India — is considered an icon in Bengal. Hazarika, who passed away in 2011, was a renowned musician, singer and lyricist. He was a legislator of the Assam Assembly from Nauboicha constituency from 1967 to 1972, having contested as an independent. The award to Hazarika comes at a time the BJP runs a government in Assam — its first-ever in the state. Hazarika, born in 1926, was conferred with the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1987, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1992 and the Padma Vibhushan posthumously in 2012.
Pranab Mukherjee, 83, served as the country’s president from 2012 to 2017. Born in 1935, Mukherjee had taken care of several ministerial portfolios, including finance, defence and external affairs.
He was the deputy chairman of the erstwhile Planning Commission from 1991 to 1996. He is a two-term Lok Sabha, and five-term Rajya Sabha member. According to his profile on the Lok Sabha website, Mukherjee “was considered the top-ranking minister, and presided over the cabinet meetings in the absence of the Prime Minister (Indira Gandhi) during 1980-1985”.
At the fag end of its tenure in 2014, the Congress-led UPA had conferred the Bharat Ratna on scientist C N R Rao and cricketer Sachin Tendulkar.