There was intense speculation on Sunday that former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee and freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose may be awarded the country’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, triggering a controversy.
The Congress said if the government was taking a “historic route” in deciding the recipients, there were many suitable candidates. Netaji’s family argued that the government should first solve the mystery of his disappearance.
The names started doing the rounds after media reports claimed that the government had ordered minting of five Bharat Ratna medallions.
“I hope this is a baseless speculation,” Sugato Bose, a grandnephew of Netaji, said in Kolkata. “Netaji and Gandhi (Mahatma) should always be kept above Bharat Ratna,” said the Trianmool Congress MP, a former professor of history at the Harvard University.
“Keep Netaji out of partisan politics… How can Netaji be given Bharat Ratna after Rajiv Gandhi? Anyone with a sense of history will agree with me,” Bose, who has written a biography of the leader, said.
Chandra Kumar Bose, another grandnephew of Netaji, too, expressed his reservations. “Mystery still prevails over his death. Before awarding him with a posthumous Bharat Ratna, the government must declare in clear terms what happened to him and declassify all the Netaji files.”
Netaji was awarded the Bharat Ratna “posthumously” in 1992 but it was withdrawn in response to a Supreme Court directive. The court’s order came on a public interest litigation against the posthumous honour, as the award committee could not give conclusive evidence of Bose’s death.
Put under house arrest by the British, Netaji escaped from India in 1941 to seek international support for the freedom struggle. He went missing in 1945.
Congress’ Manish Tewari suggested names of a number of freedom fighters for the honour. He tweeted that if the “govt [is] going the historical route on Bharat Ratnas, it should also consider the names of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukdev, Lala Laj Pat Rai…” Party colleague Rashid Alvi pushed for BSP founder Kanshi Ram and Aligarh Muslim University founder Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.
Four days ago, the government ordered five medallions from the RBI mint. “But ordering five medallions doesn’t mean that five persons will be bestowed Bharat Ratna,” a home ministry official said.
A maximum of three Bharat Ratna can be cleared by the government in a year. The recommendation is made by the prime minister himself to the president and no formal names are called for.
Earlier this year, the previous UPA government conferred the prestigious award on cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and scientist CNR Rao.
Instituted on January 2, 1954, Bharat Ratna has been conferred on 43 individuals. Eleven recipients were awarded posthumously.