Atal Bihari Vajpayee to get Bharat Ratna

New Delhi: Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and freedom fighter Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya will be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour, a Rasthrapati Bhavan communique said Wednesday.

The announcement came ahead of Vajpayee's 90th birthday tomorrow.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. File pic/AFP

"The President has been pleased to award Bharat Ratna to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya (posthmously) and to Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee," the communique said.

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

An educationist with a vision, Malviya's main achievement was the establishment of the Banaras Hindu University. Born on December 25, 1861, Malviya 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.

Malviya is also remembered for his stellar role in the Independence movement and his espousal of Hindu nationalism. He was one of the initial leaders of the right-wing Hindu Mahasabha.

The recommendation for Bharat Ratna is made by the Prime Minister himself to the President. No formal recommendation for this is necessary. Last year, when the UPA government had announced Bharat Ratna for former cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and scientist CNR Rao, BJP had criticised Congress for ignoring Vajpayee's contribution to the nation.

One of India's most charismatic leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee is lauded as a statesman politician whose acceptability across the board broke barriers pitchforking the BJP to centrestage of politics in the late 90s.

It was Vajpayee's sway that brought new allies to BJP, then considered a virtual untouchable in view of its rightist leanings, especially after demolition of Babri Masjid, in 1998.

An orator par excellence and known for taking bold initiatives, notable being the attempt to bridge Indo-Pak differences, Vajpayee reached far beyond his BJP's nationalist political agenda. As India's longest serving prime minister outside Congress party, Vajpayee is often described as the moderate face of BJP.

His detractors used to call him a "mask" of the RSS, his benign smile of moderation hiding his party's links with Hindu groups.

Undeterred by party hawks who accused him of embarking on a misdirected visit to Pakistan in 1999, Vajpayee rode triumphantly into Lahore aboard a bus, on an initiative that was pursued by his successor Manmohan Singh.

Vajpayee's diplomatic breakthrough was hailed as the dawn of a new era in Indo-Pak relations. But it was another story that Pakistan army undertook a covert operation to send its troops into Kargil that led to a limited conflict that Pakistan lost.

Vajpayee first became Prime Minister in 1996 after four decades in opposition. He lasted only 13 days as prime minister for lack of numbers. The lack of a stable majority ended his second stint in power from 1998 after 13 months. His government collapsed after AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa withdrew her support from the coalition. He was reelected in 1999 at the head of a more stable coalition that lasted its full term.

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