Millennium Post

Better late, than never

The highest civilian award of the Republic of India is in buzz again with people speculating it to be adorned on the magician of Hockey, Dhyan Chand or the living legend of cricket, Sachin Tendulkar. This award was last awarded in 2009, further it was suspended during the tenure of the first non-Congress government from July 1977 to January 1980 for best reasons known to the then leaders at the helm of affairs. Bharat Ratna is the most prestigious award of the Indian republic for artistic, literary and scientific achievement as well as for public service of the highest order. It was instituted by the first President, Rajendra Prasad on 2 January 1954 along with other major national honours – Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan  and Padma Sri. It is understood that there was no provision to confer Bharat Ratna posthumously and the provision to this effect was added in January 1966. There was a forceful demand from all sections of the society to confer Bharat Ratna upon Sachin Tendulakar in 2011, when he scored his 100th century in international matches. It was also demanded to consider sportspersons eligible for receiving the Bharat Ratna. With a consideration for Dhyan Chand, it seems that the union government finally has taken a decision to include the category of sportspersons for consideration of Bharat Ratna. In this case the choice has zeroed down to the former hockey player and Sachin Tendulkar.  In case the highest civilian award of the country goes to Dhyan Chand, it would be posthumous. Bharat Ratna has been conferred on 12 personalities posthumously till date with one being a rare case of withdrawal. The first to be awarded posthumously was the 2nd Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966. A simple and honest person, who gave slogan of Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, he breathed his last while negotiating peace with Pakistan. The second personality to be awarded posthumously was K Kamraj in 1976, known for his plan to revitalise the Congress party for the third general election. He served as the Congress President and the CM of Madras.  The third in this category was Vinoba Bhave awarded in 1983. He conceptualised the Bhudan movement. Tamil actor and the chief minister of Tamilnadu, M G Ramachandran was also conferred Bharat Ratna posthumously in 1988.  Ramachandran ruled Tamil cinema for many decades and earned recognition in politics. The next awardee was none other than messiah of the downtrodden and architect of our Constitution, B R Ambedkar in 1990.

Late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi aged 47, was the youngest when conferred posthumously.  He was killed in a terrorist blast in Tamilnadu while campaigning for his party.  He would be remembered for introduction of computerisation and lowering the age of voting.  Bharat Ratna was also announced posthumously for Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, the ‘iron man’ in 1991. At that point of time he would have been 116 years of age. Maulana Abul kalam Azad, the first education minister of the country too was conferred Bharat Ratna posthumously in 1992. He was firmly against the partition of the country and being a nationalist Muslim he contributed substantially in nurturing harmony. It is understood that Bharat Ratna for him was declared during his life time though he refused to accept it being one of the members of the jury.

The first Mayor of Delhi and an eminent revolutionary and freedom fighter Aruna Asif Ali was conferred Bharat Ratna posthumously in 1997. ‘Lok Nayak’ Jai Prakash Narain, leader of Sampooran Kranti in 1975 was awarded the award posthumously in 1999. J P, as he was popularly called, was instrumental in turning 1977 Lok Sabha elections a direct fight between the Congress party and newly formed Janata party. His aspirations and expectations went wrong as Janta party miserably performed ultimately facing division and fall of the government at the centre. A freedom fighter and former chief minister of Assam, Gopi Nath Bardoli was posthumously awarded Bharat Ratna in 1999. In all 41 personalities have been adorned with Bharat Ratna till now. The award was given to three personalities in 1954, the first Indian governor general of the country and chief minister of Madras, Chakrabarti Rajgopalachari, an eminent scientist C V Raman and the first vice president of India Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, whose birthday is celebrated as Teacher’s Day. The last to be conferred Bharat Ratna was the Hindustani classical singer, Pandit Bhim Sen Joshi in 2008 who expired in 2011.

There are only four personalities who were conferred Bharat Ratna during their life time and are still alive. These comprise of former President A P J Abdul Kalam, Noble prize winner Amartya Sen, playback singer Lata Mangeshkar and the first non-white president of South Africa Nelson Mandela. The youngest to be awarded Bharat Ratna during her lifetime was the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at 57 and the eldest was an educationist and social reformer D Keshaw Karve at the age of 100.       

The author is a communication consultant
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