Pranab Mukherjee during a speech at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi, in this file photo on May 3, 2015. Image Credit: IANS

New Delhi: The government on Friday night announced Bharat Ratna for former president Pranab Mukherjee, a Congressman all his life, Nanaji Deshmukh, one of the founders of BJP, and eminent Assamese poet and musician Bhupen Hazarika on the eve of the country’s 70th Republic Day, choices that were perceived to be weighed heavily on personalities with an eye on the coming Lok Sabha elections.

“The President has been pleased to award Bharat Ratna to the following: Shri Nanaji Deshmukh [posthumously], Dr Bhupen Hazarika [posthumously] and Shri Pranab Mukherjee,” a Rashtrapati Bhawan press communique said. The last time the highest civilian honour was conferred was on former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya [posthumously] in 2015.

So far 45 eminent personalities have been conferred with the Bharat Ratna and the total goes up to 48 with Friday’s announcement.

The surprise pick among the three was Mukherjee, who demitted office of President in 2017, and had a good equation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the two-and-a-half years he was at the helm in Rashtrapati Bhawan during NDA government.

The choice of Mukherjee, who hails from West Bengal, and the late Hazarika, an eminent son of Assam, is in tune with the BJP’s mission of cornering a good chunk of seats in the East and the northeastern parts of the country where the Citizenship Amendment Bill has created problems for the BJP. Mukherjee’s choice also indicates that he could still play a political role after the Lok Sabha elections in case of a hung Parliament.

Mukherjee (84), who reached new heights in political career as a Congressman, had also stirred a controversy last year when he attended an RSS event at its Nagpur headquarters.

Hazarika who died in 2011 at the age of 85 years, was a poet, playback singer, lyricist and filmmaker all rolled into one, and his works were marked by humanity and universal brotherhood. He had introduced culture and folk music of Assam into Hindi cinema at the national level.

The third choice of Bharat Ratna for this year, Nanaji Deshmukh, was a RSS pracharak who rose to become in-charge of Uttar Pradesh in the sixties, and was later one of the architects of the BJP in the 1980s.

Deshmukh had founded the Deendayal Research Institute (DRI) in 1972 to validate the philosophy of Integral Humanism propounded by Deendayal Upadhyaya and after retirement from active politics, he initiated the Chitrakoot Project, a campaign for self-reliance. He died in 2010 at the age of 94.

Kader Khan, Mohanlal, Prabhudheva named for Padma honours

The late Bollywood actor, Kader Khan, has been named for the Padma Shri honour by the government, which will also confer the fourth-highest civilian honour on film celebrities like Prabhudheva and Manoj Bajpayee. Malayalam star Mohanlal will get the Padma Bhushan.

The Padma awardees for the year were announced on Friday, the eve of India's 70th Republic Day.

Kader Khan, who died on December 31 last year after prolonged illness in Canada, is being recognised for his immense contribution to the world of films as a writer and actor par excellence. He was 81.

Mohanlal, who will be conferred the third-highest civilian honour, the Padma Bhushan, has had a prolific career spanning four decades, during which he has worked across Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada films.

Among the Padma Shri awardees, Manoj has been recognised for his work as an actor, while Prabhudheva has been named for his skills in dance.

From the world of music, the versatile singer-composer Shankar Mahadevan, who is proficient in classical as well as mainstream Hindi film music, has been chosen for the Padma Shri.

In times when gender equality is much spoken about, the Padma awardee list, however, makes no mention of a woman from the film industry.