The President's Office on Friday conferred the country's highest civilian award Bharat Ratna to Nanaji Deshmukh, Dr Bhupen Hazarika and Pranab Mukherjee.
In an official statement, the government said Deshmukh and Hazarika were conferred the award posthumously. Mukherjee, fondly known as 'Pranab Da', was the president between 2012 and 2017.
The Bharat Ratna has been conferred after a gap of four years. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and founder of Banaras Hindu University Madan Mohan Malviya were given the award by the Narendra Modi government in 2015.Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted hailing the contributions of Deshmukh, Hazarika and Mukherjee.
Mukherjee, before starting his political journey, was an upper-division clerk in the office of the deputy accountant-general (Post and Telegraph) in Kolkata. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi introduced Mukherjee to politics in 1969. He was the only minister to have handled four major ministries, defence, commerce, foreign and finance.
The 83-year-old Mukherjee, who was also known as the quintessential Man Friday of the Congress, joins the elite club with Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Rajendra Prasad, Zakir Hussain and V V Giri who had been conferred the coveted award.
Mukherjee became India's youngest finance minister in 1982 at the age of 47. From 2004, he went on to head three crucial ministries - External Affairs, Defence and Finance -and became the first occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhavan to have this distinction.
Last year, Mukherjee had drawn flak from certain quarters for attending an RSS function in Nagpur.
Deshmukh was a social activist, who was worked in the fields of education, health and rural self-reliance, and was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan by the government of India. He was a leader of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and also a member of the Rajya Sabha.Deshmukh was associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh since 1928 till his death in Satna, Madhya Pradesh, in 2010 at the age of 94 and was known for starting the chain of RSS inspired schools throughout India.
He was one of the founder members of Bharatiya Jan Sangh which later evolved as Bharatiya Janta Party.
He was considered to be one of the architects of the Jai Prakash Narain movement against Emergency in 1974 and among the key persons in the formation of Janata Party government in 1977.
Hazarika, widely known as Sudhakantha, was awarded Padma Vibhushan, India's second-highest civilian award in 2011. He also held the position of the chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi from December 1998 to December 2003.
Born in 1926, Hazarika was an playback singer, lyricist, musician, singer, poet and film-maker from Assam.
A recipient of Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1987), Padmashri (1977), Padmabhushan (2001) and Padma Vibhushan (2012-posthumously), Hazarika was also awarded with Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 1992.Hazarika did his Phd from Columbia University in 1952. He died in 2011.
The cultural icon also had a brush with politics and had unsuccessfully contested the Guwahati Lok Sabha seat on a BJP ticket in 2004. He was an independent MLA in Assam during 1967-72.
Hazarika gave music in Bollywood movies Rudaali, Darmiyaan, Gaja Gamini, Daman and many Assamese hits, including award winning film 'Sameli Memsaab'.
With these three recipients, 48 eminent people have been conferred the award so far.
Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award was instituted in 1954, is given in recognition of exceptional service, performance of the highest order in any field of human endeavour.
Any person without distinction of race, occupation, position or sex is eligible for this award. The recommendations for Bharat Ratna are made by the Prime Minister to the President. The number of annual awards is restricted to a maximum of three in a particular year.
With inputs from PTI.