Bharat Ratna (‘Jewel of India’), instituted by the first President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad on 2nd January 1954, is India’s highest civilian award. The award is given each year by the President of India “for exceptional service towards the advancement of Art, Literature and Science and in recognition of public service of the highest order”. It was scrapped by the Janata Party Government in 1977 but was revived in 1980 by the Congress government.
The Bharat Ratna (along with the three Padma Awards) was not given during 1993-1996, in view of a pending Supreme Court case questioning the constitutional legality of the Civilian Awards. These awards were revived in 1997 after the Supreme Court gave a verdict on 15th December 1995 upholding the constitutional validity of these awards.
The actual award is designed in the shape of a peepal leaf and the words “Bharat Ratna” are inscribed on it in the Devanagari script. The reverse side of the medal carries the state emblem and motto. The holders of the Bharat Ratna do not carry any special titles but are placed 7th in the Order of Precedence i.e. immediately after the Chief Ministers.
There is no strict or formal provision that the recipients of the Bharat Ratna Award ought to be Indian citizens. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1987) and Nelson Mandela (1990) were the two foreign nationals to be conferred with the Bharat Ratna Award. Mother Teresa (Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu) was the only naturalized Indian to be conferred with this award.
The only instance of the Bharat Ratna being withdrawn was in 1992, when the award given posthumously to the veteran freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was withdrawn on the directives of the Supreme Court as the government could not give conclusive evidence of Netaji’s death.
So far the Bharat Ratna has been conferred on 48 recipients as follows: Dr Sarvepali Radhakrishnan (1954); Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (1954); Dr Chandrasekhar Venkat Raman (1954); Dr Bhagwan Das (1955); Dr Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya (1955); Jawaharlal Nehru (1955); Govind Ballabh Pant (1957); Dr Dhondo Keshave Karve (1958); Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy (1961); Purushottam Das Tandon (1961); Dr Rajendra Prasad (1962); Dr Zakir Husain (1963); Dr Pandurang Vaman Kane (1963); Lal Bahadur Shastri (Posthumous) (1966); Indira Gandhi (1971); Varahagiri Venkatagiri (1975); Kumaraswami Kamraj (Posthumous-1976); Mother Teresa (1980); Acharya Vinobha Bhave (Posthumous) (1983); Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1987); Marudu Gopalan Ramachandran (Posthumous) (1988); Dr B.R. Ambedkar (Posthumous) (1990); Dr Nelson R. Mandela (1990); Rajiv Gandhi (Posthumous) (1991); Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (Posthumous) (1991); Morarji Desai (1991); Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1992); J.R.D. Tata (1992); Satyajit Ray (1992) ; A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (1997); Gulzarilal Nanda (1997) ; Aruna Asaf Ali (Posthumous-1997) ; M.S. Subbulakshmi (1998); Chidambaram Subramaniam (1998); Loknayak Jayprakash Narayan (Posthumous) (1999); Professor Amartya Sen (1999); Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi (Posthumously-1999), Pandit Ravi Shankar (1999), Lata Mangeshkar (2001), Bismillah Khan (2001), Bhimshen Joshi (2009), C.N.R.Rao (2014), Sachin Tendulkar (2014), Madan Mohan Malaviya (2015 – Posthumous), Atal Bihari Vajpayee (2015 – Posthumous), Nanaji Deshmukh (2019 – Posthumous), Bhupen Hazarika (2019 -Posthumous) and Pranab Mukherjee (2019).