New Delhi:India's first Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Hindutva poster boy late Kalyan Singh, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and former West Bengal CM and CPM leader Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee were selected on Tuesday for this year's Padma awards.
Within an hour of the announcement, Bhattacharjee said that he rejected the Padma Bhushan award. Official sources, however, said the ailing leader's wife was informed in the morning of the government decision to award him Padma Bhushan and that no one from his family objected to it.
Kalyan Singh and General Rawat who died in a helicopter crash in Tamil Nadu last month were conferred Padama Vibushan, the country's second-highest civilian award, along with 88-year-old Indian classical vocalist Prabha Atre and the late Radheshyam Khemka, former chairman of Geeta Press, which publishes Hindu religious books.
The Babri Masjid was demolished when Singh was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, where assembly polls are scheduled in February-March. He resigned following the demolition, even as the then Union government dismissed the BJP dispensation in the state. Singh died last year.
No names were announced for Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award, which was last awarded in 2019 to former President Pranab Mukherjee, social reformer Nanaji Deshmukh and noted singer Bhupen Hazarika.
Cyrus Poonawalla of the Serum Institute of India, which manufactured COVID-19 vaccine Covishield, and Krishna Ella and Suchitra Ella of Bharat Biotech, which produced India's indigenous coronavirus vaccine Covaxin, were also given Padma Bhushan.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, chairperson of Tata Group Natarajan Chandrasekaran were conferred Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award.
Late Punjabi folk singer Gurmeet Bawa, actor Victor Banerjee and former Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi were also named for Padma Bhushan.
Senior Congress leader Azad, US-based culinary expert Madhur Jaffrey, Paralympic javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia, religious teacher from Gujarat Swami Sachidanand were among the 17 Padma Bhushan awardees.
Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra and singer Sonu Nigam were awarded Padma Shri.
Former West Bengal chief minister Bhattacharjee, who was among the 17 Padma Bhushan awardees, said in a statement, "I don't know anything about the Padma Bhushan award. Nobody told me about it. If I was given the Padma Bhushan award, I am rejecting it."
According to CPM sources, it was a decision of Bhattacharjee and also the party.
However, official sources said a top official of the Union Home Ministry called Bhattacharjee's home early Tuesday morning.
The former chief minister's wife picked up the phone as he has been unwell and she was conveyed the central government's decision to name him as one of the Padma awardees this year.
Bhattacharjee's wife told the top official that she would inform him (Bhattacharjee) about the Padma award.
Since no one from Bhattacharjee's family got back to the home ministry about his unwillingness to accept the Padma award, his name was announced late in the evening as one of the Padma awardees, sources said.
The home ministry always calls up the prospective awardees about the decision to give the Padma awards before announcing the names. If anyone conveys any objection, he or she is not named, sources said.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the President approved conferment of 128 Padma Awards, including two duo cases, this year. In a duo case, the award is counted as one.
The list comprises 4 Padma Vibhushan, 17 Padma Bhushan and 107 Padma Shri awards.
Thirty-four of the awardees are women and the list also includes 10 persons from the category of Foreigners/NRI/PIO/OCI and 13 posthumous awardees.
Among the awardees include many "unsung heroes" who have been contributing to the society through different ways.
The Narendra Modi government has been honouring many such "unsung heroes" with Padma awards since 2014.
Padma Awards are conferred in three categories, namely Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri. The awards are given in various disciplines or fields of activities, viz. art, social work, public affairs, science and engineering, trade and industry, medicine, literature and education, sports, civil service, etc.
'Padma Vibhushan' is awarded for exceptional and distinguished service; 'Padma Bhushan' for distinguished service of high order and 'Padma Shri' for distinguished service in any field. The awards are announced on the occasion of Republic Day every year.