Former President of India Pranab Mukherjee, singer Bhupen Hazarika and Bharatiya Jana Sangh leader Nanaji Deshmukh have been conferred Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India. President Ram Nath Kovind gave the award during an event at Rashtrapati Bhawan on Thursday. Hazarika and Deshmukh have been given the honour posthumously.
Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, several Union Cabinet ministers, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal were in audience during the function held at the Durbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhawan. Hazarika's son Tej Hazarika received the award on behalf of his father, whereas Virendrajeet Singh, Chairman of Deendayal Research Institute, accepted the honour on behalf of Deshmukh.
The government announced the decision to confer the Bharat Ratna upon Mukherjee, Deshmukh and Hazarika in January earlier this year. Bharat Ratna has been conferred after a gap of four years. In 2015, the Modi government has given the honour to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Banaras Hindu University founde Madan Mohan Malviya.
Fondly known as 'Pranab Da', Mukherjee became the fifth president to receive Bharat Ratna. Mukherjee (83), known as the quintessential 'Man Friday' of the Congress, was the president between 2012 and 2017. Before him, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Rajendra Prasad, Zakir Hussain and VV Giri were also awarded the nation's highest civilian honour.
Mukherjee became India's youngest finance minister in 1982 at the age of 47. In the two UPA governments from 2004, he went on to head three crucial ministries -- external affairs, defence and finance -- and became the first occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhavan to have this distinction.
Born in 1926, Hazarika was a playback singer, lyricist, musician, singer, poet and filmmaker from Assam. He was awarded Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1987), Padma Shri (1977), Dada Saheb Phalke Award (1992), Padma Bhushan (2001) and Padma Vibhushan (2012-posthumously). Hazarika did his PhD from Columbia University in 1952. He died in 2011.
The cultural icon also had a brush with politics and had unsuccessfully contested the Guwahati Lok Sabha seat on a BJP ticket in 2004. He was an Independent MLA in Assam during 1967-72.
Hazarika gave music in acclaimed Bollywood movies including Rudaali, Darmiyaan, Gaja Gamini, Daman and many Assamese hits, including the award winning film 'Sameli Memsaab'.
With these three recipients, 48 eminent people have been conferred the Bharat Ratna so far.
Deshmukh was associated with the RSS from 1928 till his death in Satna, Madhya Pradesh, in 2010 at the age of 94 and was known for starting a chain of RSS-inspired schools throughout India.
He was one of the founder members of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, which later evolved as Bharatiya Janata Party.
He was considered to be one of the architects of the Jai Prakash Narayan's movement against the Emergency in 1975 and among the key persons in the formation of the Janata Party government in 1977.
(With PTI inputs)
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