Bharat Ratna

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Bharat Ratna
Bharat Ratna.jpg
Type Civilian
Category National
Description An image of the Sun along with the words "Bharat Ratna", inscribed in Devanagari script, on a peepul leaf
Instituted 1954
First awarded 1954
Last awarded 2013
Total awarded 43
Awarded by Government of India
Ribbon IND Bharat Ratna BAR.png
First awardee(s)
Recent awardee(s)
Award rank
Param Vir Chakra[1] →

Bharat Ratna (Hindi: भारत रत्‍न, Hindi pronunciation: [bʰaːrt̪ rt̪ n]; Jewel of India)[2] is the highest civilian award of the Republic of India. Instituted on 2 January 1954, the award is conferred "in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order", without distinction of race, occupation, position, or sex. The award was originally limited to achievements in the arts, literature, science and public services but the government expanded the criteria to include "any field of human endeavour" in December 2011. Recommendations for the Bharat Ratna are made by the Prime Minister to the President, with a maximum of three nominees being awarded per year. Recipients receive a Sanad (certificate) signed by the President and a peepal-leaf–shaped medallion; there is no monetary grant associated with the award. Bharat Ratna recipients rank seventh in the Indian order of precedence, but are constitutionally prohibited from using the award name as a title.

The first recipients of the Bharat Ratna were politician C. Rajagopalachari, scientist C. V. Raman and philosopher Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who were honoured in 1954. Since then, the award has been bestowed on 43 individuals including 11 who were awarded posthumously. The original statutes did not provide for posthumous awards but were amended in January 1955 to permit them. In 1966, former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri became the first individual to be honoured posthumously. In 2013, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, aged 40, became the youngest recipient while social reformer Dhondo Keshav Karve was awarded on his 100th birthday. Though usually conferred on Indian citizens, the Bharat Ratna has been awarded to one naturalised citizen, Mother Teresa in 1980, and to two non-Indians, Pakistan national Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in 1987 and former South African President Nelson Mandela in 1990. The most recent recipients are C. N. R. Rao and Sachin Tendulkar who were honoured in 2013.

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 Subhash Chandra Bose met with controversy. Due to the debate surrounding Bose's death, the "posthumous" mention of Bose was much criticised, and his family refused to accept the award. 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.


On 2 January 1954, a press communique was released from the office of the secretary to the President of India announcing the creation of two civilian awards—Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award, and the three-tier Padma Vibhushan, classified into "Pahela Warg" (Class I), "Dusra Warg" (Class II), and "Tisra Warg" (Class III), which rank below the Bharat Ratna.[3] A year later 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.[4]

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, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan of Pakistan in 1987 and the late former South African president Nelson Mandela in 1990.[5] Sachin Tendulkar, at the age of 40, became the youngest person and first sportsperson to receive the honour.[6] Dhondo Keshav Karve was awarded on his 100th birthday on 18 April 1958 in a special ceremony.[7][a] As of 2014, the award has been conferred upon 43 people with 11 posthumous declarations.[10][11]

The award was briefly suspended twice in its history.[12] The first suspension occurred after Morarji Desai was sworn in as the fourth Prime Minister of India in 1977. His government withdrew all personal civil honours on 13 July 1977 and past recipients were asked not to use the awards as a title.[13][14] The suspension was rescinded on 25 January 1980 after Indira Gandhi again became the Prime Minister.[15] The civilian awards were 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.[12] The awards were reintroduced by the Supreme Court of India in December 1995 following the conclusion of the litigation.[14][16]


The Bharat Ratna is conferred "in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order",[17] and was originally confined to the arts, literature, science and public services, per the 1954 regulations.[3] But, in December 2011, the rules were changed to include "any field of human endeavour".[18] The 1954 statutes also did not allow posthumous awards but this was subsequently modified in the January 1955 statute and Lal Bahadur Shastri became the first recipient to be honoured posthumously in 1966.[4][19]

Although there is no formal nomination process, recommendations for the award can only be made by the Prime Minister of India to the President with a maximum number of three nominatees being awarded per year. The recipient receives a Sanad (certificate) signed by the President and a medallion without any monetary grant. Under the terms of Article 18 (1) of the Constitution of India,[b] the recipients cannot use the award as a prefix or suffix to their name, although recipients may use either the expressions "Awarded Bharat Ratna by the President" or "Recipient of Bharat Ratna Award" to indicate that they have been honoured with the award.[17] The holders of the Bharat Ratna rank 7th in the Indian order of precedence.[21]

As with many official announcements, recipients are announced and registered in The Gazette of India, a publication released by the Department of Publication, Ministry of Urban Development used for official government notices; without publication in the Gazette, conferral of the award is not considered official. Recipients whose awards have been revoked or restored, both of which require the authority of the President, are also registered in the Gazette. Recipients whose awards have been revoked are required to surrender their medal, and their name to be struck from the register.[3][4]


The original 1954 specifications of the award was a circle made of gold 1 38 inches (35 mm) in diameter with a centred sun burst design on the obverse side. The text "Bharat Ratna", in Hindi, is inscribed on the upper edge in silver gilt with a wreath set along on the lower edge. A platinum Emblem of India was placed in the centre of the reverse side with the national motto of India, "Satyameva Jayate" (Truth alone triumphs) in Hindi, inscribed in silver-gilt on the lower edge.

A year later, however, the design was modified to the form that is currently in use. The current medal is in the shape of a Peepal leaf, about 2 516 inches (59 mm) long, 1 78 inches (48 mm) wide and 18 inch (3.2 mm) thick and rimmed in platinum. The embossed sun burst design, also made of platinum, on the obverse side of the medal has a diameter of 58 inch (16 mm) with rays spreading out from 56 inch (21 mm) to 12 inch (13 mm) from the center of the Sun. The words "Bharat Ratna" on the obverse side remained the same as the 1954 design as did the emblem of India and "Satyameva Jayate" on the reverse side. A 2-inch-wide (51 mm) white ribbon is attached to the medal so it can be worn around the neck.[4][12][22] In 1957, the silver-gilt decoration was changed to burnished bronze.[3][23]

List of recipients[edit]

   # Naturalized citizen recipient
   double-dagger Non-citizen recipient
   dagger Posthumous recipient
List of laureates awarded with the Bharat Ratna[10][11]
Year Image Laureates Notes Refs.
1954 C Rajagopalachari Feb 17 2011.JPG C. Rajagopalachari Independence activist, last and only Indian Governor-General of India [24]
Sir CV Raman.JPG C. V. Raman Nobel laureate physicist (1930) [25][26]
Radhakrishnan.jpg Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan Philosopher, India's first Vice-President (1952–62), and second President (1962–67) [27][28][29]
1955  – Bhagwan Das Independence activist, theosophist, and founder of Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith [30]
Visvesvaraya Statue bust at JIT.jpg Visvesvaraya Civil engineer, Diwan of Mysore (1912–18), and Knight Commander of the Indian Empire [31][32]
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-61849-0001, Indien, Otto Grotewohl bei Ministerpräsident Nehru cropped.jpg Jawaharlal Nehru Independence activist, author, and first Prime Minister of India (1947–64) [33][34]
1957  – Govind Ballabh Pant Independence activist, first Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (1950–54) [35][36]
1958  – Dhondo Keshav Karve Social reformer [37]
1961  – Bidhan Chandra Roy Physician-Surgeon and second Chief Minister of West Bengal (1948–62) [38][39]
 – Purushottam Das Tandon Independence activist, educator [40]
1962 Food Minister Rajendra Prasad during a radio broadcast in Dec 1947 cropped.jpg Rajendra Prasad Independence activist, lawyer, first President of India (1950–62) [28][41]
1963  – Zakir Hussain Independence activist, second Vice-President of India (1962–67), and third President of India (1967–69) [28][29][42]
 – Pandurang Vaman Kane Indologist and Sanskrit scholar [43]
1966 1736 Lal Bahadur Shastri cropped.jpg Lal Bahadur Shastri dagger Independence activist and third Prime Minister of India (1964–66) [34][43]
1971 Indira2.jpg Indira Gandhi Former Prime Minister of India (1966–77, 1980–84) [34]
1975  – V. V. Giri Trade unionist, first Acting President of India, and fourth President of India (1969–74) [28][44]
1976  – K. Kamaraj dagger Independence activist and former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (1954–57, 1957–62, 1962–63) [45]
1980 MotherTeresa 090.jpg Mother Teresa # Catholic nun, founder of the Missionaries of Charity and Nobel peace prize laureate (1979) [46]
1983  – Vinoba Bhave dagger Independence activist, social reformer, and Ramon Magsaysay Award laureate (1958) [5][47]
1987 Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.jpg Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan double-dagger Independence activist [48]
1988 M. G. Ramachandran.jpg M. G. Ramachandran dagger Film actor and former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (1977–80, 1980–84, 1985–87) [45][c]
1990 Young Ambedkar.gif B. R. Ambedkar dagger Chief architect of the Indian Constitution and social reformer [50][51]
Nelson Mandela-2008 (edit).jpg Nelson Mandela double-dagger Leader of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa and Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1993) [52]
1991 Rajiv Gandhi (cropped).jpg Rajiv Gandhi dagger Ninth Prime Minister of India (1984–89) [34]
Sardar patel (cropped).jpg Vallabhbhai Patel dagger Independence activist and first Deputy Prime Minister of India (1947–50) [53]
Morarji Desai (portrait).png Morarji Desai Independence activist and sixth Prime Minister of India (1977–79) [34][d]
1992 Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.jpg Abul Kalam Azad dagger Independence activist [55][e]
 – J. R. D. Tata Industrialist and philanthropist [5]
SatyajitRay.jpg Satyajit Ray Filmmaker [5]
1997  – Gulzarilal Nanda Independence activist and two times interim Prime Minister of India [34]
 – Aruna Asaf Ali dagger Independence activist [59]
AbdulKalam.JPG A. P. J. Abdul Kalam Aerospace and Defense Scientist, eleventh President of India (2002–07) [28][60]
1998 Ms subbulakshmi 140x190.jpg M. S. Subbulakshmi Carnatic classical vocalist [61]
 – Chidambaram Subramaniam Independence activist and former Minister of Agriculture of India (1964–66) [62]
1999  – Jayaprakash Narayan dagger Independence activist and social reformer [63]
Ravi Shankar 2009 crop.jpg Ravi Shankar Hindustani classical Sitar player [64]
Amartya Sen NIH.jpg Amartya Sen Nobel laureate economist (1998) [65]
Gopinath Bordoloi.jpg Gopinath Bordoloi dagger Independence activist, first Chief Minister of Assam (1946–50) [66]
2001 Lata Mangeshkar - still 29065 crop.jpg Lata Mangeshkar Playback singer [67]
Bismillah at Concert1 (edited) 2.jpg Bismillah Khan Hindustani classical Shehnai player [68]
2009 Pandit Bhimsen Joshi (cropped).jpg Bhimsen Joshi Hindustani classical vocalist [69][70]
2013 CNRrao2.jpg C. N. R. Rao Chemist [11]
Sachin at Castrol Golden Spanner Awards (crop).jpg Sachin Tendulkar Cricketer [11]


The Bharat Ratna has been surrounded by several controversies and multiple Public-Interest Litigations (PIL) had been filed against the conferral of the award.

Subhas Chandra Bose (1992)
In 1992, a press release was published to confer the award posthumously on Bose which was later cancelled by the Supreme Court of India in 1997.

On 23 January 1992, a press release was published by the President's Secretariat to confer the award posthumously on Subhash Chandra Bose. The decision triggered much criticism and a Public-Interest Litigation was filed in the Calcutta High Court to revoke the award.[71] The petitioner took objection to the conferral of the award and its posthumous mention of Bose saying that honouring a personality higher than the award is "ridiculous" and was an act of "carelessness" to classify such a person with past and future recipients. It also said that the award cannot be conferred to Bose posthumously as the Government of India had not officially accepted his death on 18 August 1945. The petitioner also requested the whereabouts of Bose from 18 August 1945 till date, based on the information collected by the 1956 Shah Nawaz Committee and the 1970 Khosla Commission. The family members of Bose also expressed their unwillingness to accept the award.[72][73]

To deliver the judgement, the Supreme Court of India formed a Special Division Bench with Judge Sujata V. Manohar and G. B. Pattanaik. The Solicitor General of India noted that to confer the award per the appropriate regulations pertaining to the Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, and Padma Shri, the name of the recipient must be published in The Gazette of India and entered in the recipients register maintained under the direction of the President of India.[3] It was also noted that only an announcement had been made by press communique but the government had not proceeded to confer the award by publishing the name in the Gazette and entering the name in the register. Furthermore, the then presidents of India, R. Venkataraman (1987–92) and Shankar Dayal Sharma (1992–97), had not conferred a Sanad (certificate) with their signature and seal.[72]

On 4 August 1997, the Supreme Court of India delivered an order that since the award had not been officially conferred, it cannot be revoked and declared that the press communique be treated as cancelled. The court declined to pass any judgement on the "posthumous" mention of Bose and his death.[72][74]

Constitutional validity (1992)

In 1992, two PILs were filed in the High Courts of India; one in the Kerala High Court on 13 February 1992 by Balaji Raghavan and another in the Madhya Pradesh High Court (Indore Bench) on 24 August 1992 by Satya Pal Anand. Both petitioners raised a question about the civilian awards being "Titles" per an interpretation of Article 18 (1) of the Constitution of India.[b] On 25 August 1992, the Madhya Pradesh High Court issued a notice temporarily suspending all civilian awards.[14] A Special Division Bench of the Supreme Court of India was formed comprising five judges; A. M. Ahmadi C. J., Kuldip Singh, B. P. Jeevan Reddy, N. P. Singh, and S. Saghir Ahmad. On 15 December 1995, the Special Division Bench restored the awards and delivered a judgement that the "Bharat Ratna and Padma awards are not titles under Article 18 of the Constitution of India".[16]

C. N. R. Rao and Sachin Tendulkar (2013)

Following the announcement, in November 2013, that C. N. R. Rao and Sachin Tendulkar were to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, multiple Public-Interest Litigations were filed challenging the conferring of the award. The PIL filed against Rao declared that other Indian scientists, such as Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai, had contributed more than Rao and his claim of publishing 1400 research papers was "physically impossible". The suit also stated that as Rao had proven cases of plagiarism, he should not be presented with the award but rather should be annulled.[75] The PIL filed against Tendulkar to the Election Commission of India under the Right to Information Act indicated that the awarding him the Bharat Ratna was a violation of the model code of conduct. The petitioner noted that as Tendulkar was an Indian National Congress nominated Member of Rajya Sabha, the decision to award him the Bharat Ratna would influence the voters of Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram where the election process was underway at the time.[76] Another PIL was filed against Tendulkar and a few ministers, "alleging a conspiracy to ignore" an Indian field hockey player Dhyan Chand."[77][f]

On 4 December 2013, the Election Commission of India rejected the petition stating that conferring the award on people from non-polling states did not amount to a violation of the code.[78] Other High Courts of India also rejected the petitions raised against Rao and Tendulkar.[79]


Several awards of the Bharat Ratna have spurred much criticism as they have been considered "political awards" to persons who have not necessarily merited the honour. As the recommendations for Bharat Ratna are made by the Prime Minister of India to the President, the then Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru (1947–64) and Indira Gandhi (1966–77, 1980–84) have been criticised for honouring themselves with the awards in 1955 and 1971 respectively.[58][80]

In 1988, then Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi (1984–89) conferred the Bharat Ratna posthumously on film actor and former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu M. G. Ramachandran in a bid to influence voters prior to the Tamil Nadu assembly elections in 1989.[81][82] The decision was also criticised for awarding Ramachandran before independence activist B. R. Ambedkar and Vallabhbhai Patel, who were bestowed the honour in 1990 and 1991 respectively.[83]

While Ravi Shankar was accused of lobbying for the award,[58] the decision by Indira Gandhi to posthumously honour K. Kamaraj was said to have been aimed at placating Tamil voters for the Tamil Nadu assembly elections in 1977. The seventh Prime Minister V. P. Singh was also criticised for posthumously honouring B. R. Ambedkar to please Dalits.[80][81]

A few of the conferments have been criticised for honouring personalities only after they received global recognition.[84] 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.[85][86] In 1999, Amartya Sen was awarded the Bharat Ratna, a year after his 1998 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The award was proposed by President K. R. Narayanan to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who agreed to the proposal.[87][88]

Popular demands[edit]

Though, as per the statutes for the Bharat Ratna, the recommendations for the award can only be made by the Prime Minister to the President,[17] there have been several demands from various political parties to honour their leaders. In January 2008, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L. K. Advani wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recommending Singh's predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the award.[34][89] This was immediately followed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) lobbying for their leader, Jyoti Basu, former Chief Minister of West Bengal.[39] Basu, India's longest-serving chief minister, said that he would decline the honour, even if awarded.[90] Similar such demands include the Telugu Desam Party leader N. Chandrababu Naidu for N. T. Rama Rao, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati for Kanshi Ram and the Shiromani Akali Dal for Parkash Singh Badal.[91]

Per the original statutes, sportspersons were not eligible for the Bharat Ratna; however a revision of the rules in December 2011 made eligible "any field of human endeavour".[18] Subsequently, several sportspersons' names were discussed; among the most talked-about of these was field-hockey player Dhyan Chand, who was recommended multiple times for the posthumous honour.[92] In 2011, 82 members of parliament recommended Chand's name for the award to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). In January 2012, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports forwarded his name again, this time along with 2008 Summer Olympics gold medallist shooter Abhinav Bindra and mountaineer Tenzing Norgay.[93] Bindra had also been recommended for the award in May 2013 by the National Rifle Association of India.[94] In July 2013, the ministry again recommended Dhyan Chand.[93][95] However, in November 2013, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar became the first sports-person to receive the honour.[6] The decision to honour Tendulkar before Chand gathered much criticism for the government.[96]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ The Bharat Ratna ceremony is usually held at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi but a special ceremony was held at Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai to honour Karve on his 100th birthday on 18 April 1958.[8][9]
  2. ^ a b Per Article 18 (1) of the Constitution of India: Abolition of titles, "no title, not being a military or academic distinction, shall be conferred by the State".[20]
  3. ^ In 1960, Ramachandran was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award, but declined as the invitation was written in the Devanagari script and not Tamil.[49]
  4. ^ Desai had earlier abolished the awards while he was in the office of Prime Minister for it being "worthless and politicized".[54]
  5. ^ Earlier, Abul Kalam Azad had refused the Bharat Ratna while he was Education Minister of India (1947–58) citing that the selection committee members should not themselves be recipients.[56][57][58]
  6. ^ The PIL accused the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Sports Minister Bhanwar Jitendra Singh and the secretary to the union home department.


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Further reading[edit]