Unraveling the political tapestry behind the 5 Bharat Ratnas, India’s highest honor

While the choice of individuals for the award is unquestionable, it is essential to delve into the reasons these leaders were selected.

BySouth First Desk

Published Feb 10, 2024 | 7:50 PMUpdated Feb 10, 2024 | 7:53 PM

Unraveling the political tapestry behind the 5 Bharat Ratnas, India’s highest honor

The Narendra Modi-led Union government has made a historic announcement by conferring the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor, upon five distinguished Indians, setting a record in the process.

This proclamation, acknowledging the exceptional contributions of these esteemed leaders, is undeniably commendable. Their achievements have undoubtedly made India proud.

However, the manner in which these awards have been declared and the subsequent events demand scrutiny.

Let’s delve into the selection process, starting with the notable figures —Karpoori Thakur, LK Advani, PV Narasimha Rao, Chaudhary Charan Singh, and Dr MS Swaminathan.

Karpoori Thakur and Nitish Kumar

It all began with Karpoori Thakur, an undisputed leader in India’s social justice politics. Preceding the Mandal Commission, he pioneered reservations for backward classes, most backward communities, and women.

Thakur’s substantial contribution to the social justice movement in India warrants unequivocal admiration. His role as a messiah for the poor and champion of the downtrodden, emerging from the barber community, elevated him to the zenith of Indian political life. Consequently, the selection of Thakur for the Bharat Ratna stands unquestionable.

However, the subsequent events involving Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, merit attention.

Identifying Thakur as his mentor, Kumar promptly exited the INDIA bloc and aligned with the NDA. Using Thakur’s Bharat Ratna as a pretext, Kumar’s political manoeuvring reflects a strategic move that diminishes the significance of the prestigious award.

The parallel occurrences — the conferment of the Bharat Ratna on Karpoori Thakur and Nitish Kumar’s shift to the NDA — cannot be perceived in isolation. This interconnectedness is rooted in the BJP’s larger strategy of social engineering and political positioning, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and other states.

Thakur’s selection serves as a testament to the BJP’s pursuit of garnering support from the most backward communities and non-dominant OBCs. The political undercurrents surrounding Thakur’s Bharat Ratna underscore the BJP’s calculated moves, strategically aligning with its objectives for the impending 2024 general elections.

Also Read: Opinion: The Nitish Kumar story: To be or where to be

The Advani angle

The spotlight then shifted to the announcement concerning LK Advani. Given the opportunity, it is likely that Narendra Modi would not have readily endorsed the Bharat Ratna for Advani.

Over the past decade of the BJP regime, one may question why Prime Minister Modi has refrained from bestowing India’s highest civilian honor upon Advani, a towering figure in Indian politics and the driving force behind the Ram Mandir movement, as well as a key architect of modern BJP politics.

While other Opposition parties are unlikely to contest the selection of Advani for the Bharat Ratna, the noticeable lack of recognition for him over the years raises eyebrows.

Modi’s perceived antipathy towards Advani, the venerable leader of the BJP, has been conspicuous.

However, the BJP’s strategic imperative for the upcoming 2024 general elections, centred around the Ram Mandir narrative, leaves little room for overlooking Advani’s contributions. Acknowledging Thakur as part of the social justice and socialist narrative, it is likely that the BJP found itself compelled to extend recognition to Advani, who played a pivotal role in shaping the party’s ideological foundation.

Thus, despite personal differences, Modi likely felt impelled to confer the honor upon Advani, recognising his instrumental role in the development of the BJP’s narrative and the broader political landscape.

Also Read: OPINION: Decoding LK Advani’s ‘exceptional service of highest order’

The PV Narasimha Rao factor

The recent Bharat Ratna announcements have bestowed the prestigious honour upon former prime ministers Chaudhary Charan Singh, PV Narasimha Rao, and Dr MS Swaminathan. Undoubtedly, their contributions to India’s social and political fabric are beyond dispute, acknowledged across the entire political spectrum.

The inclusion of PV Narasimha Rao, the architect of India’s economic reforms, is seemingly non-controversial, given the consensus across the political spectrum regarding the pivotal role of economic reforms in India’s history. However, beneath the surface lies a political narrative.

The historical rift between Sonia Gandhi and Rao, exemplified by the Congress high command’s reluctance to allow Rao’s body into the office after his death, underscores personal opposition from the Congress’s top family. Despite this, Sonia Gandhi is compelled to accept the Bharat Ratna for Rao — known by his initials PVNR.

It is nothing but obvious that the BJP has strategically utilised PVNR to tarnish the Congress’s image and emphasised ideological affinities, such as PVNR’s role in initiating diplomatic relations with Israel.

Similar circumstances arose in the case of the Ram Mandir. It was the government intransigence under PV Narasimha Rao that ultimately resulted in the unfortunate demolition of the Babri Masjid. This indirectly paved the way for the construction and consecration of the Ram Temple.

PVNR’s selection is not just a recognition of his pivotal role in economic reforms but is embedded in the political backdrop of ideological shifts within the Congress. While the Congress traditionally adhered to Nehruvian socialism, PVNR’s departure towards market-oriented economic reforms aligns more closely with BJP’s principles.

Also Read: Bharat Ratna for Telugu ‘bidda’ PV Narasimha Rao: Rightful and overdue

 Charan Singh and Dr MS Swaminathan

A closer look at the aftermath of Charan Singh’s selection reveals intriguing political developments. His grandson and RLD (Rashtriya Lok Dal) leader, Jayant Chaudhary, promptly expressed an intention to switch sides. The RLD and the Samajwadi Party had nearly reached an electoral understanding for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

With this, the BJP’s strategic move to court the RLD, a key ally of the INDIA alliance in Uttar Pradesh, signals a calculated effort to thwart the combined strength of the SP, RLD, and the Congress in the crucial state.

The choice of Charan Singh for the Bharat Ratna holds another layer of significance. The now-repealed farm laws of the Modi government had incurred the displeasure of the farming community, particularly influential Jat farmers in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, and the entire Hindi belt. Recognising Charan Singh, a prominent leader among farmers, is seen as the BJP’s outreach to address the discontent surrounding the farm laws, even though they have been put on hold.

Similarly, Dr Swaminathan, a distinguished agricultural scientist and former chairman of the National Commission of Farmers, was likely selected as an attempt to rally behind the farming community that had distanced itself from the saffron party due to the contentious farm laws.

These selections are not just acknowledgments of individual contributions but intricately fit into the political strategy of the Modi regime. The BJP aims not only to retain its seats but also to gain further ground in regions like Telangana, where its electoral performance has shown improvement. The Bharat Ratna announcements thus become strategic moves within the broader political landscape orchestrated by the Modi government.

Also Read: Bharat Ratna to MS Swaminathan: The Food Man and his Green Revolution

(The opinions voiced in this article are of Prof Nageshwar Rao’s as per a video on his YouTube channel. Views are personal.)