PV Narasimha Rao, MS Swaminathan, Chowdhary Charan Singh conferred with Bharat Ratna

The Asian Age.  | Sanjay Basak

The move to confer the Bharat Ratna to Narasimha Rao was seen as a subtle message to the Gandhis

(L to R): Chowdhary Charan Singh, PV Narasimha Rao, MS Swaminathan.

New Delhi: Former Prime Ministers P.V. Narasimha Rao and Chaudhary Charan Singh and agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan will be honoured with the Bharat Ratna, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Friday.   The decision to award the Bharat Ratna to P.V. Narasimha Rao and Charan Singh and to the founder of India’s Green Revolution has taken the number of recipients of the nation’s highest civilian award to 53, five of them given in 2024, the maximum in a year so far. Till now, the maximum Bharat Ratnas were awarded in 1999 when four recipients were given the award.

The move to confer the Bharat Ratna to Narasimha Rao was seen as a subtle message to the Gandhis. Narasimha Rao was always viewed as the “Achilles heels” for the Congress led by the Gandhis. The relationship between Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Narasimha Rao during his tenure as Prime Minister had always been strained. The Congress not only shunned Rao when he demitted office in 1996, but after his death in 2004 his body was not even allowed inside the AICC headquarters at 24 Akbar Road.

It was also stated that over the years, the Congress high command only acknowledged Dr Manmohan Singh’s role in the 1990s’ economic liberalisation even though he was the finance minister in the government led by Narasimha Rao. Not taking the bait, Mrs Sonia Gandhi on Friday welcomed the decision. Asked for her reaction to the highest civilian award being conferred on Narasimha Rao, she said: “I welcome it. Why not?”

The former Prime Minister had also come under fire after the demolition of the Babri Masjid during his tenure as PM. The other sore point was the JMM bribery scandal to secure his minority government in 1993. Some political observers said the decision to honour Narasimha Rao “comes days after the inauguration of the Ram Mandir”.

Taking to X, the Prime Minister tweeted: “Narasimha Rao steered India through critical transformations and also enriched its cultural and intellectual heritage,” Mr Modi said. Rao's visionary leadership, Mr Modi said, “was instrumental in making India economically advanced and laid a solid foundation for its prosperity and growth”. He went on to state: “Narasimha Rao Garu’s tenure as Prime Minister was marked by significant measures that opened India to global markets, fostering a new era of economic development.” Mr Modi added: “Rao's contributions to India's foreign policy, language and education sectors underscore his multifaceted legacy as a leader who not only steered India through critical transformations but also enriched its cultural and intellectual heritage.”

The PM said that the “Bharat Ratna to Charan Singh was dedicated to his incomparable contribution to the country. It is our government’s fortune that Singh is being honoured with the Bharat Ratna and it is dedicated to his incomparable contributions to the country.” Charan Singh served as the fifth Prime Minister of India between July and August in 1979.

Minutes after the Prime Minister’s post, the BJP’s political rival, Rashtriya Lok Dal leader and grandson of Charan Singh Jayant Chaudhary posted on the social media: “Dil Jeet Liya” (Won my heart). Though the RLD still officially remains a part of the INDIA bloc, there are rumours of ongoing covert negotiations between the party and the BJP. The RLD, which has considerable support among Jats and farmers in western UP, could possibly switch sides to latch on to the saffron bandwagon. Speculation is rife that the RLD-BJP deal could be announced shortly. The RLD could be given Baghpat, Bijnor and five other Lok Sabha berths in UP. Other parts of the deal could include a Rajya Sabha membership for Mr Chaudhary’s wife and two berths in the Narendra Modi Cabinet, if the NDA returned to power. Only last month the RLD had confirmed its seat-sharing deal with the Samajwadi Party. The RLD was given seven Lok Sabha seats. Reacting to conferring the Bharat Ratna on Charan Singh, SP leader Akhilesh Yadav said he was “very happy”, and that the SP had “also demanded the Bharat Ratna for Charan Singh”. Asked about the rumours on a possible deal between the BJP and the RLD, Mr Yadav remarked he was “getting to know everything through media reports”.

On conferring the Bharat Ratna on M.S. Swaminathan, known as the “father of the Green Revolution”, the PM said: “Swaminathan made monumental contributions to the country in agriculture and farmers’ welfare.” Mr Modi went on to state that Dr Swaminathan “played a pivotal role in helping India to achieve self-reliance in agriculture and made outstanding efforts in modernising it”.