February 23, 2024

New Delhi:

Former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh has been awarded a posthumous Bharat Ratna – India’s highest civilian award – the government said Friday afternoon. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the award on X (formerly Twitter) hailing Mr Singh for his “incomparable contributions”.

“He dedicated his life to the welfare of farmers… whether as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh or Home Minister of the country, and even as MLA, he always gave impetus to nation-building. He stood against the Emergency (and) his dedication to our farmer brothers and sisters is inspiring…” Mr Modi said.

The Bharat Ratna for Chaudhary Charan Singh comes amid reports of a seat-sharing deal between the BJP and the Rashtriya Lok Dal – founded by his son and now led by his grandson, Jayant Chaudhary.

And, minutes after Mr Modi’s post, Mr Chaudhary tweeted: “Dil jeet gaya (Hearts have been won).”

Sources told NDTV the BJP will give the RLD – which has substantial support among Jats and farmers in western Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 MPs to Parliament’s Lower House, the most of any state – two Lok Sabha seats and one Rajya Sabha seat in return for its support. NDTV was also told the RLD had made awarding a Bharat Ratna for Chaudhary Charan Singh a key condition for any agreement.

Jayant Chaudhary’s party is likely to get the Baghpat and Bijnor seats, and his wife may be made a Rajya Sabha candidate, sources have said. There was also talk of ministerial berths for the RLD.

Sources said the BJP had offered two berths in UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s cabinet, but the RLD also wanted a seat in Prime Minister Modi’s cabinet at the centre.

READ | BJP Approaches INDIA’s Rashtriya Lok Dal With 7-Seat Offer: Sources

The RLD only last month confirmed an alliance with Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, under which it was to contest seven Lok Sabha seats. Faced with possibly losing the RLD’s backing, Akhilesh Yadav yesterday told reporters Mr Chaudhary is a “very well-educated person… (who) understands politics”.

The former UP Chief Minister also said he hoped he would not weaken the struggle against the BJP “for the welfare of farmers and prosperity of the state”. His party was more explicit; General Secretary Shivpal Yadav said “Jayant will not go anywhere”, and accused the BJP of “spreading confusion”.

This morning too Akhilesh Yadav downplayed buzz of the RLD leaving, saying, “There have been no talks. Whatever it is, (it) is being published in newspapers,..am getting information through you.”

Mr Yadav, meanwhile, welcomed the award for Charan Singh but also took a swipe at the BJP, remarking it is only right someone “who spent his life” helping poor farmers get the Bharat Ratna”. 

“I want to congratulate all farmers. Chaudhary Charan Singhji fought for farmers all his life… We are happy a farmer leader got Bharat Ratna,” he said in the UP Assembly.

The jab comes as the BJP faces yet another wave of protesting farmers; on Thursday farmers from UP’s Noida and Greater Noida amassed on Delhi’s border to agitate for better land prices.

The sight of farmers penned behind police barricades, with riot control vehicles at the ready, were a replay of images from three years ago – when tens of thousands of farmers and their supporters marched on Delhi to protest the “black farm laws”, triggering a massive image crisis for the BJP.

Five Bharat Ratnas This Year

Chaudhary Charan Singh’s Bharat Ratna is the fifth announced this year; the government has also recognised Congress leader and former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, former Bihar Chief Minister Karpoori Thakur, and the BJP’s LK Advani, as well as world-renowned agronomist MS Swaminathan.

The awards come weeks before a general election and a number of Assembly polls, including one in Andhra Pradesh, which is Mr Rao’s home state and one in which Mr Modi’s BJP is scrambling for grip.

Equally significant, Karpoori Thakur’s award came shortly before Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar – his protege – executed (yet another) flip-flop, dumping the INDIA bloc and realigning with the BJP.

READ | Bharat Ratna To Karpoori Thakur As Impetus For Nitish Kumar’s U-Turn?

Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) has declared its “appreciation” to the Prime Minister for “honouring the real India”; “We are proud of it…” JDU leader KC Tyagi told news agency ANI.

The Bharat Ratna for Mr Advani – who has labelled himself the “charioteer” who steered the controversial ‘rath yatra’ to Ayodhya in UP – came days after the consecration of the Ram Temple.

The sole non-political Bharat Ratna this year was to MS Swaminathan – the ‘father of India’s Green Revolution’ and who was hailed by the Prime Minister as “a true farmers’ scientist”.

Mr Swaminathan died in September last year.

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