‘Bharat Ratna’, the highest civilian Award of the country, was instituted in the year 1954. Any person without distinction of race, occupation, position or sex is eligible for these awards. It is awarded in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavour. The recommendations for Bharat Ratna are made by the Prime Minister himself to the President. No formal recommendations for this are necessary, according to the ministry of home affairs data.
The number of annual awards is restricted to a maximum of three in a particular year.
On conferment of the award, the recipient receives a Sanad (certificate) signed by the President and a medallion.
The Award does not carry any monetary grant. In terms of Article 18 (1) of the Constitution, the award cannot be used as a prefix or suffix to the recipient’s name. However, should an award winner consider it necessary, he/she may use the following expression in their biodata/letterhead/visiting card etc. to indicate that he/she is a recipient of the award: ‘Awarded Bharat Ratna by the President’ or ‘Recipient of Bharat Ratna Award’.
The Bharat Ratna is conferred in recognition of “exceptional service/performance of the highest order”, without distinction of race, occupation, position or gender. The award was originally limited to achievements in the arts, literature, science, and public services, but the Government of India expanded the criteria to include “any field of human endeavor” in December 2011. The recommendations for the award are made by the Prime Minister to the President. The recipients receive a Sanad, certificate, signed by the President and a peepal-tree leaf-shaped medallion with no monetary grant associated with the award. Bharat Ratna recipients rank seventh in the Indian order of precedence.
The first recipients of the Bharat Ratna were: the former Governor-General of the Union of India C. Rajagopalachari, the former President of the Republic of India Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan; and the Indian physicist C. V. Raman, who were honoured in 1954. Since then, the award has been bestowed upon 53 individuals, including 18 who were awarded posthumously. The original statutes did not provide for posthumous awards but were amended in January 1966 to permit them to honor former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, the first individual to be honored posthumously. In 2014, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, then aged 40, became the youngest recipient, while social reformer Dhondo Keshav Karve was the oldest recipient when he was awarded on his 100th birthday. Though usually conferred on India-born citizens, the award has been conferred on one naturalized citizen, Mother Teresa, and on two non-Indians: Abdul Ghaffar Khan (born in British India and later a citizen of Pakistan) and Nelson Mandela, a citizen of South Africa.
The Bharat Ratna, along with other personal civil honours, was briefly suspended from July 1977 to January 1980, during the change in the national government; and for a second time from August 1992 to December 1995, when several public-interest litigations challenged the constitutional validity of the awards. In 1992, the government’s decision to confer the award posthumously on Subhas Chandra Bose was opposed by those who had refused to accept the fact of his death, including some members of his extended family. Following a 1997 Supreme Court decision, the press communiqué announcing Bose’s award was cancelled; it is the only time when the award was announced but not conferred.
Inception of the Awards
On 2 January 1954, a press communique was released from the office of the secretary to the President announcing the creation of two civilian awards—Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India), the highest civilian award, and the three-tier Padma Vibhushan, classified into “Pehla Warg” (Class I), “Dusra Warg” (Class II), and “Tisra Warg” (Class III), which rank below the Bharat Ratna. On 15 January 1955, the Padma Vibhushan was reclassified into three different awards; the Padma Vibhushan, the highest of the three, followed by the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Shri.
The award was briefly suspended twice in its history. The first suspension occurred when Morarji Desai, who was sworn in as the fourth Prime Minister in 1977, withdrew all personal civil honours on 13 July 1977. The suspension was rescinded on 25 January 1980, after Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister. The award was suspended again in mid-1992, when two Public-Interest Litigations were filed, one in the Kerala High Court and another in the Madhya Pradesh High Court, challenging the “constitutional validity” of the awards. The awards were reintroduced by the Supreme Court in December 1995, following the conclusion of the litigation.
There is no formal provision that recipients of the Bharat Ratna should be Indian citizens. It has been awarded to a naturalised Indian citizen, Mother Teresa in 1980, and to two non-Indians, Abdul Ghaffar Khan of Pakistan in 1987 and the former South African president Nelson Mandela in 1990. Sachin Tendulkar, at the age of 40, became the youngest person and first sportsperson to receive the honour. Dhondo Keshav Karve was the oldest living recipient when he was awarded on his 100th birthday on 18 April 1958. As of 2024, the award has been conferred upon 50 people with 15 posthumous declarations.
A few of the conferments have been criticized for honoring personalities only after they received global recognition. The award for Mother Teresa was announced in 1980, a year after she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Satyajit Ray received an Academy Honorary Award in 1992 followed by the Bharat Ratna the same year. In 1999, Amartya Sen was awarded the Bharat Ratna, a year after his 1998 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
Bharat Ratna cannot be used as a prefix or suffix, however recipients may identify themselves as “Awarded Bharat Ratna by the President” or “Recipient of Bharat Ratna Award”. The award does not carry any monetary benefits, but the award includes the following entitlements:
• The medallion and miniature
• A Sanad (certificate) signed by the President of India
• Treatment as a state guest by state governments when traveling within a state
• Indian missions abroad requested to facilitate recipients when requested
• Entitlement to a diplomatic passport
• Placed seventh in the Indian order of precedence
• Concessional fare on the flag carrier Air India.
Bharat Ratna in 2024
Bharat Ratna has been conferred to former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani and Karpoori Thakur, Bihar’s former chief minister and a well-known socialist leader. On Friday PM Modi also announced the Bharat Ratna award to Chaudhary Charan Singh, PV Narasimha Rao, both former prime ministers, along with MS Swaminathan, also known as the father of the green revolution.
Lal Krishna Advani
Bharatiya Janata Party stalwart and former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani has been awarded the Bharat Ratna. He has been associated with the party since its establishment in 1980. Apart from this Advani served as both the home minister and deputy Prime Minister under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee from 1999 to 2004. Current PM Narendra Modi disclosed that Advani would be bestowed with India’s highest civilian honour on 3 February, 2024. He served as the president of the BJP three times. He was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1989 where he served seven terms. In 1992, he was alleged to have been part of the Demolition of the Babri Masjid, but was acquitted by the courts due to lack of evidence. Following the same, he was one of the chief proponents of the movement to build a temple over the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya and the subsequent rise of Hindutva politics in the late 1990s. He has served as leader of opposition in both the houses. He was the minister of home affairs from 1998 to 2004 and deputy prime minister from 2002 to 2004. He served in the Indian parliament until 2019 and is credited for rise of BJP as a major political party. In 2015, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honour..
In a line-up post on X, PM Modi said that as a distinguished scholar and statesman, Narasimha Rao served India extensively in various capacities. “Delighted to share that our former Prime Minister, PV Narasimha Rao Garu, will be honoured with the Bharat Ratna. As a distinguished scholar and statesman, Narasimha Rao Garu served India extensively in various capacities. He is equally remembered for the work he did as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Union Minister, and as a Member of Parliament and Legislative Assembly for many years. His visionary leadership was instrumental in making India economically advanced, laying a solid foundation for the country’s prosperity and growth,” the PM said.
Born on June 28, 1921, in Karimnagar, Telangana, being an agriculturist and an advocate, Narsimha Rao joined politics and held some important portfolios. He was the Minister of Law and Information, 1962-64; Law and Endowments, 1964-67; Health and Medicine, 1967 and Education, 1968-71, Government of Andhra Pradesh. He was the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh from 1971-73 and General Secretary of the All India Congress Committee from 1975-76.
Chaudhary Charan Singh
Chaudhary Charan Singh (23 December 1902 – 29 May 1987) was an Indian politician and a freedom fighter. He served as the 5th prime minister of India and 5th Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Charan Singh followed Mahatma Gandhi in non-violent struggle for independence from the British Government, and was imprisoned several times. In 1930, he was sent to jail for 12 years by the British for contravention of the salt laws. He was jailed again for one year in November 1940 for individual Satyagraha movement. In August 1942 he was jailed again by the British under DIR and released in November 1943. He served as the 5th Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in 1970 before serving as the 5th prime minister of India beteween 28 July 1979 and 14 January 1980. Though a Congress member for most of his life, he later founded his own political party Lokdal in 1980. Historians and people alike frequently refer to him as the “Champion of India’s peasants”
“It is the good fortune of our government that former Prime Minister of the country Chaudhary Charan Singh is being honoured with Bharat Ratna. This honour is dedicated to his incomparable contribution to the country. He had dedicated his entire life to the rights and welfare of farmers. Be it the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh or the Home Minister of the country, even as an MLA, he always gave impetus to nation-building. He also stood firm against the Emergency. His dedication to our farmer brothers and sisters and his commitment to democracy during the Emergency are inspiring to the entire nation,” PM posted on X.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday announced Bharat Ratna for agricultural scientist MS Swaminathan.
Swaminathan, a prominent figure in Indian agriculture famed for his leading role in India’s ‘Green Revolution’, will be conferred the honour posthumously.On September 28, last year Swaminathan passed away at the age of 98 at his residence in Chennai.
The Government of India is conferring the Bharat Ratna on Dr MS Swaminathan, in recognition of his monumental contributions to our nation in agriculture and farmers’ welfare. He played a pivotal role in helping India achieve self-reliance in agriculture during challenging times and made outstanding efforts towards modernizing Indian agriculture. His visionary leadership has not only transformed Indian agriculture but also ensured the nation’s food security and prosperity. Born on August 7, 1925, Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, established the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in Chennai in 1988.
Bihar’s former chief minister and a well-known socialist leader will be posthumously honoured with Bharat Ratna. Popularly known as referred to as ‘Jan Nayak’ (people’s leader), Thakur will become the 49th recipient of this prestigious award.