Bharat Ratna for Atal Bihari Vajpayee

A day ahead of his birthday, the Union Cabinet may finally decide to give the Bharat Ratna to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The Cabinet meet on Wednesday is likely to be where the BJP-led government might confirm the conferring of the nation’s highest civilian award on the former Prime Minister on his birthday on 25 December, reports the Times of India.

CNN-IBN reported that the decision could be announced after the cabinet meet today and Prime Minister Narendra Modi could meet with Vajpayee at his residence, where he will inform the ailing former prime minister of the decision.

Modi is reportedly travelling to Varanasi on Thursday and is likely to announce the decision today itself, the channel reported.

The Modi government has already declared that the day would be observed as ‘good governance day’ as a mark of respect for the former Prime Minister. The government earned its fair share of controversy over an alleged plan to have CBSE school students come to school on the day to participate in a contest despite it being a public holiday on account of Christmas.

The decision on giving the award to the BJP leader comes with former political allies like National Conference’s Omar Abdullah and Janata Dal (U)’s Nitish Kumar backing the move.

“Vajpayee jee should have been bestowed with Bharat Ratna during UPA government itself. I strongly support Bharat Ratna for Vajpayee jee,” Nitish Kumar told reporters on Tuesday.

Lauding Vajpayee, Kumar said the BJP leader’s was a believer of liberal thinking and always respected coalition partners by keeping away divisive agendas of his party.

“His personality and the good lessons I learnt under him in the NDA ministry will always have an imprint on me,” Kumar, who served as Railway and than Surface Transport Minister under Vajpayee, said.

Speculation over the BJP’s first prime minister getting the highest civilian award has been on since August this year when his name came up along with freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose as being in the running for the Bharat Ratna.

The BJP has been demanding that Vajpayee get the award since last year and the then leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha and  now minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, was quoted as saying that if the BJP government came to power they would award the Bharat Ratna to Vajpayee.

Vajpayee, one of the co-founders of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, also was instrumental in the creation of the BJP in 1980. He had served as External Affairs Minister during the Morarji Desai government and after being elected as Prime Minister in 1999 became the first non-Congress leader to complete a full term in office.

Even occasional critics like columnist Vinod Mehta have argued that it was important to give the former Prime Minister the award since “when it comes to national icons, the BJP’s cupboard is utterly bare”.

“It is in the country’s interest they should have at least one,” he noted in a column.

It’s not like previous prime ministers haven’t got the Bharat Ratna. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Morarji Desai, and Gulzarilal Nanda are the six former prime ministers who have received the award in the past, and Vajpayee would be the seventh to receive it.

However, while he may be unable to comment on it now due to ill health, Vajpayee was pretty skeptical of the move to give him the award when it was suggested to him  during his term as Prime Minister.

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