Bharat Ratna

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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 award consists of a Sanad (certificate) signed by the President of India and a medallion. There is no monetary grant associated with the award.

The actual award is designed in the shape of a peepal leaf which is considered sacred in the Indian culture and symbolises wisdom, knowledge, and enlightenment, 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.

The award is not given out every year; it is bestowed upon individuals when deemed truly deserving.

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 in 1980.

In 1992, the Government of India under Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao decided to confer Bharat Ratna on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and approached his family for accepting the award posthumously. However, the family declined the honour, citing the length of time it had taken the government to acknowledge Netaji and demanded the declassification of files related to his disappearance. In 1997 as per the Supreme Court’s verdict Bose’s award was cancelled as the government could not give conclusive evidence of Netaji’s death. This is the only case when the Bharat Ratna was announced but not conferred, rather it was withdrawn.

So far the Bharat Ratna has been conferred on 54 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), Sonam Gyatso (The 14th and Dalai Lama) (Spiritual leader) (2020).

In 2024, a total of five individuals were conferred the Bharat Ratna: Karpoori Thakur (Posthumous), a former Chief Minister of Bihar; Chaudhary Charan Singh (Posthumous), a former Prime Minister of India; M. S. Swaminathan, an agricultural scientist known as the “Father of India’s Green Revolution”;  P. V. Narasimha Rao (Posthumous), a former Prime Minister of India and Lal Krishna Advani, a former Deputy Prime Minister of India.

As of 2024, there have been 14 posthumous Bharat Ratna recipients. While there is no official limit on the number of recipients per year, a maximum of three individuals are usually awarded the Bharat Ratna in a single year. However, in 2024, an exception was made and five individuals were awarded the honour, the highest number of recipients ever awarded the Bharat Ratna in a single year.

Including the five recipients of 2024, a total of 24 individuals who were conferred with the Bharat Ratna have been categorised as politicians. These individuals held significant positions of power in the government or actively participated in shaping political landscape of India.

The following is the breakdown:

Former Presidents: 2 (Rajendra Prasad, Zakir Husain)
Former Prime Ministers: 10 (Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, V. V. Giri, P. V. Narasimha Rao, Charan Singh, Rajiv Gandhi, Morarji Desai, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Pranab Mukherjee)
Former Deputy Prime Minister: 1 (Lal Krishna Advani)
Chief Ministers: 2 (Bidhan Chandra Roy, Karpoori Thakur)
Other Political Leaders: 9 (Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Gulzarilal Nanda, Aruna Asaf Ali, C. Subramania Bharati, C. N. R. Rao, Madhavrao Wable, Nanaji Deshmukh)

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