Atal Bihari Vajpayee, freedom fighter Madan Mohan Malaviya to be awarded Bharat Ratna

New Delhi: The government on Wednesday announced that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and freedom fighter Madan Mohan Malaviya will be honoured with India’s highest civilian award- Bharat Ratna.

“President Mukherjee has been pleased to award Bharat Ratna to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya (posthumously) and to Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” a tweet from the President’s office said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “It is a matter of great delight. Country’s highest honour to these illustrious stalwarts is a fitting recognition of their service to the Nation.”

He further added, “Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya is remembered as a phenomenal scholar and freedom fighter who lit the spark of national consciousness among people.”

A renowned BJP leader, Vajpayee led the first NDA government as the 11th Prime Minister of India, first for 13 days in 1996 and then from 1998 to 2004.

Vajpayee, who has been ailing for sometime, has been credited for taking bold initiatives, notable being the attempt to bridge Indo-Pak differences.

He was also the first non-Congress leader to serve a full five-year term as the prime minister and also served as the Member of Parliament for Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh until 2009, when he retired from active politics due to health concerns. He was also the Minister of External Affairs in the cabinet of Morarji Desai.

Several BJP leaders and MPs, including Murli Manohar Joshi, have demanded that the top honour be awarded to Vajpayee. NDA partner Shiv Sena too came out in support of conferring Bharat Ratna to the first BJP Prime Minister.

A file picture of former PMs (left to right) Chandra Shekhar, AB Vajpayee and PV Narasimha Rao at a gathering in 1997

He was a co-founder of Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Later when the Janata government collapsed, Vajpayee restarted the Jana Sangh as the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980.

Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee (3L) at the site of the nuclear test at Pokhran in May 1998. Also seen is former president and then DRDO chief APJ Abdul Kalam (2R)

The Bharat Ratna is the highest civilian honour in the country and is given in recognition of exceptional service or for performance of the highest order. BJP leaders have in the past demanded that the Bharat Ratna be awarded to Vajpayee.

Renowned Indian educationist and freedom fighter, Malaviya was the President of the Indian National Congress on four occasions—1909, 1918, 1932 and 1933. He was a moderate leader and is known for his support of Hindu nationalism and opposition for separate electorates for Muslims under the Lucknow Pact of 1916.

Born on December 25, 1861, Malaviya was catapulted into the political arena immediately after his first moving speech at the second Congress session held in Kolkata in 1886. He was President of INC in 1909 and 1918.

An educationist with a vision, Malaviya’s main achievement was the establishment of the Banaras Hindu University.

In later years, he was even given the title of “mahamana” by Mahatma Gandhi.

Meanwhile, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee welcomed the Centre’s decision to confer ‘Bharat Ratna’ on former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

“I welcome the decision. We all love and respect Vajpayeeji,” Banerjee, who served as a minister in the Vajpayee cabinet, said when her reaction was sought on the announcement made by the Centre.

(With agency input)