Home / Opinion / What the numbers tell us about the Bharat Ratna awards

Over the weekend, speculation has grown that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will be awarded the Bharat Ratna. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose is the other name that is doing the rounds for the nation’s highest civilian award.

To be sure, if awarded, this will be the first Bharat Ratna to a political figure this century. In the last 13 years, only five awards have been handed out and all to sports persons, artists and scientists (see chart 2). It was also a break from the 1990s, when nine out of 17 awards were given to political figures.

Uttar Pradesh has been the recipient of the largest number of awards, not surprising given its population. People from this state have won nearly a quarter of the awards. However, a caveat here is that the Uttar Pradesh list includes the three former prime ministers from the Nehru-Gandhi family who fought their political battles mostly in this state.

There are another couple of things to note from the awards. Only four women—Indira Gandhi, singers M.S. Subbalakshmi and Lata Mangeshkar and freedom fighter Aruna Asaf Ali have won the award. A quarter of all recipients were honoured after their death.

Now that it is known that the government has ordered for five Bharat Ratna medallions, a host of recommendations is pouring forth, particularly on social media. Historian Ramachandra Guha has called for Bharat Ratnas to cartoonist R.K. Laxman and scientist M.S. Swaminathan while Bishan Singh Bedi is batting for hockey wizard Dhyan Chand.

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