Vajpayee, Malaviya named for Bharat Ratna

New Delhi


A day ahead of their birth anniversaries, former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and late freedom fighter-educationist Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya were named for India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna.

"The president has been pleased to award Bharat Ratna to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya (posthumously) and to Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee," a Rashtrapati Bhavan communique said.

Incidentally, both Vajpayee and Malaviya were born Dec 25 - the former in 1924 and the latter in 1861. The day has also been declared as "Good Governance Day" by the government.

BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the announcement. Congress also welcomed it.

"Bharat Ratna being conferred on Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya and Atal Bihari Vajpayee is a matter of great delight. Country's highest honour to these illustrious stalwarts is a fitting recognition of their service to the nation," the prime minister said in a statement.

The honour for Gwalior-born Vajpayee, who was the country's prime minister first in 1996 and then again from 1998 to 2004, came after years of demands from people across party affiliations and the public at large.

The announcement came in the first year of Modi-led government.

The BJP leaders, including party veteran L.K. Advani, had been demanding Bharat Ratna for Vajpayee for several years.

The 90-year-old veteran politician had re-started the Bharatiya Jan Sangh as the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980 and was the first head of government from outside the Congress party to serve a full five-year term.

He served the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, for 10 terms that began in 1957 and concluded in 2009.

An orator par excellence, Vajpayee had earned much fame as India's external affairs minister in Prime Minister Morarji Desai's government during which tenure he delivered a widely acclaimed speech to the United Nations General Assembly in Hindi.

Allahabad-born Malaviya was the president of the Indian National Congress for two terms and was also among the first leaders of the right-wing Hindu Mahasabha. Besides being a freedom fighter and politician, he was also an eminent educationist.

The Banaras Hindu University was founded by him in 1916. He died a year before India's Independence Aug 15, 1947.

Congress welcomed the decision to confer the Bharat Ratna to Vajpayee and Malaviya.

"We welcome the conferring of Bharat Ratna on Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya and Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. We congratulate," Congress general secretary Ajay Maken said in a tweet.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the prime minister had requested the President to confer the award to the two leaders and he agreed happily.

"I congratulate all people of the country," Singh told reporters here.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said Vajpayee has been one of the most outstanding prime ministers and political leaders India has ever seen.

"Atal ji has been very a strong nationalist committed to the cause of this country. A complete product of parliamentary system and multi-party democracy, a man who always realised the virtues of consensus, one of the great communicator and somebody who made his presence felt at national level," Jaitely said.

Union Ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad, Nitin Gadkari, Harsh Vardhan and Prakash Javedkar also expressed happiness over the government's decision. - IANS