New Delhi: Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a charismatic personality who crafted consensual politics that found acceptability across the political spectrum, was on Wednesday chosen for the country’s highest civilian award Bharat Ratna along with late educationist and freedom fighter Madan Mohan Malaviya.

The announcement came ahead of the birthday of Vajpayee, who turns 90, and 153rd birth anniversary of Malaviya on Thursday.

“The President has been pleased to award Bharat Ratna to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya (posthumously) and to Atal Bihari Vajpayee," a press communique from Rashtrapati Bhavan said.

Vajpayee, who was prime minister from 1998 to 2004, and has faded from public life due to age-related illness, is lauded as a statesman and has been often described as the moderate face of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Vajpayee has been credited with taking bold initiatives, notable being the attempt to bridge India-Pakistan differences. India’s longest serving prime minister outside of Congress party, Vajpayee’s detractors called him the “mask" of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) but still always had good words for him.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the conferment of Bharat Ratna on Malaviya and Vajpayee was a “fitting recognition" of the services of the “illustrious stalwarts" to the nation.

Describing Vajpayee as one of the greatest communicators that India has ever seen, union minister Arun Jaitley said he made his presence felt at the national level and was committed to peace in Southeast Asia.

Several BJP leaders and MPs, including Murli Manohar Joshi, have demanded that the top honour be awarded to Vajpayee. NDA partner Shiv Sena too came out in support of conferring Bharat Ratna to the first BJP prime minister.

An educationist with a vision, Malaviya’s main achievement was the establishment of the Banaras Hindu University. Born on 25 December 1861, Malaviya was catapulted into the political arena immediately after his first moving speech at the second Congress session held in Kolkata in 1886.

He was President of Indian National Congress (INC) in 1909 and 1918. Malaviya is also remembered for his stellar role in the Independence movement and his espousal of Hindu nationalism. He was one of the initial leaders of the right-wing Hindu Mahasabha.

The recommendation for Bharat Ratna is made by the prime minister himself to the president. No formal recommendation for this is necessary.

Last year, when the UPA government had announced Bharat Ratna for former cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and scientist C.N.R. Rao, BJP had criticized Congress for ignoring Vajpayee’s contribution to the nation.

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