M.S. Swaminathan, P.V. Narasimha Rao, Charan Singh to get Bharat Ratna

The Green Revolution pioneer and two former PMs join former Deputy PM L.K. Advani, former Bihar CM Karpoori Thakur in the list of awardees this year, the longest ever announced in a year

February 09, 2024 01:01 pm | Updated 10:20 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A file photo of the then Prime Minister of India, P.V. Narasimha Rao, with Dr. M.S. Swaminathan at the first Agricultural Science Congress in New Delhi on November 12, 1992.

A file photo of the then Prime Minister of India, P.V. Narasimha Rao, with Dr. M.S. Swaminathan at the first Agricultural Science Congress in New Delhi on November 12, 1992. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

The Bharat Ratna will be conferred on former Prime Ministers P. V. Narasimha Rao and Choudhary Charan Singh, as well as Green Revolution pioneer M. S. Swaminathan, adding to the two awardees already announced earlier this year — socialist leader Karpoori Thakur and former Deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani.

A Rashtrapati Bhawan communique made the announcement on Friday, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauding his late predecessors — the Congress PM Rao’s liberalisation policies, and the Janata Party PM Singh’s championing of the farmers’ cause — as well as the late agricultural scientist Swaminathan’s services in the field.

Analysis: In choices for state honours, Modi government often reaches across the political aisle

The Bharat Ratna is India’s highest civilian honour. This year’s tally of five awardees, one more than the four announced in 1999, is the highest that has ever been announced in a single year. Four of the five awards announced this year are posthumous. Mr. Advani, 96, is the only one who has been awarded in his lifetime.

In this December 23, 2015 file photo, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pays tributes to former Prime Minister Charan Singh on his birth anniversary, in Delhi.

In this December 23, 2015 file photo, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pays tributes to former Prime Minister Charan Singh on his birth anniversary, in Delhi. | Photo Credit: PTI

Rao’s complicated legacy

P. V. Narasimha Rao, who helmed a Congress-led government between 1991 and 1996, is largely credited with unshackling the Indian economy following the liberalisation of policies. He was also PM when the Babri Masjid was demolished by kar sewaks in 1992; combined with the fact that his tenure at the top was the first full term completed by a non-Gandhi PM, this has led to a complicated relationship with the party’s current leadership. Rao was also the first PM from southern India.

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and party president Mallikarjun Kharge both welcomed the announcement. Asked about the Bharat Ratna announcements, specifically the award for Rao, Ms. Gandhi said, in a brief response outside Parliament, “I welcome them... Why not?”

“On the behalf of Indian National Congress, we welcome the Bharat Ratna being conferred to Shri P V Narasimha Rao, Chaudhary Charan Singh and Dr M S Swaminathan. Former Prime Minister and former Congress president, Shri P V Narasimha Rao has tremendously contributed to nation building. 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,” Mr. Kharge said, in a post on X.

Mr. Modi described Rao’s legacy thus: “His visionary leadership was instrumental in making India economically advanced, laying a solid foundation for the country’s prosperity and growth.”

Mr. Rao’s grandson, P.V. Subhash, also welcomed the honour. “The Gandhi family was instrumental in making Narasimha Rao a scapegoat for the failures of the Congress party. It’s an honour for us that at this crucial juncture where Narendra Modi has become the national leader, this has been announced. I feel very, very emotional because we had been expecting that the recognition will be delayed.”

Singh award wins grandson’s heart

Jat and farm leader Mr. Singh, who served as PM between 1979 and 1980 at the fag end of India’s first non-Congress government, has been given the award at a time when the ruling BJP is negotiating with his grandson, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Jayant Choudhary, for an alliance in the upcoming general election. Mr. Chaudhary posted his reaction on X: “Dil jeet liya (You have won my heart)“

“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. Singh’s dedication to farmers and commitment to democracy during the Emergency inspires the country,” the PM said.

The Modi government has often looked across political aisles in awarding state honours, including the previous examples of former President and Congress veteran Pranab Mukherjee, and the socialist leader and former Bihar CM Thakur. The attempt has been not just to send the correct political messages, but also to show up in sharp relief the BJP’s accusation that the Congress is incapable of looking beyond the Gandhi family and their loyalists for these honours.

All you need to know about the Bharat Ratna

Swaminathan’s pioneering role

With regard to Mr. Swaminathan, Mr. Modi said that he had “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 late agroscientist’s daughter Soumya Swaminathan, a former chief scientist and former Deputy Director General at the World Health Organisation, said that she was “proud and happy” that her father’s work has been recognised with the country’s highest civilian honour. At the same time, she also said that it was the farmers’ love for him that meant a lot to him. Noting that her father has been recognised for his lifetime of contributions to agriculture, but more importantly, to the welfare of farmers and of the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society, Dr. Swaminathan said that it was a matter of “pride and satisfaction” that her father’s whole life’s work has been recognised by the government of India and the Prime Minister.

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