Government may again skip Bharat Ratna this year

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New Delhi, Jan 20 (UNI) The Bharat Ratna is likely to elude many ''prospective contenders'' in 2008 for the seventh consecutive year.

The government is unlikely to announce the country's highest civilian award this year too even as many names, including those of former Prime Ministers, have been proposed by several political parties, official sources said.

The Bharat Ratna was last given to Lata Mangeshkar and Ustad Bismillah Khan in 2001. Since then, the Jewel of India has remained elusive.

However, it is not mandatory that the Bharat Ratna be awarded every year.

The sources said the government would like to steer clear of any controversy over the award as several political parties have proposed the names of their leaders for the coveted award.

There seems to be no end to the list as everyday a name is being proposed for the Bharat Ratna.

The race was set in motion by Leader of the Opposition L K Advani who proposed the name of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the other political parties followed suit by announcing their prefered choices.

The latest to join the race is Shaheed Bhagat Singh whose name was proposed by the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal.

The other ''prospective contenders'' are former Prime Ministers Chandra Shekhar and Charan Singh, BSP founder Kanshi Ram, CPI(M) leader Jyoti Basu, though he denied being in the running, veteran socialist leader and former Bihar Chief Minister Karpoori Thakur, social reformer Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, former Defence Minister and Dalit leader Jagjivan Ram, legendary singer Mohammad Rafi, last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, DMK supremo M Karunanidhi, former Home Minister S B Chavan, former Railway Minister Lalit Narayan Mishra and Ma Amritananda Anandamayi or Amma as she is known across the world.

The Bharat Ratna is awarded for the highest degrees of national service, including artistic, literary, and scientific achievements, as well as recognition of public service of the highest order.

First President Rajendra Prasad established the award on January 2, 1954. The first Bharat Ratna was conferred on three people - first Vice-President Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, Nobel-prize winning Physicist Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman and last Governor-General Chakravarti Rajagopalachari.

Since then, many distinguished persons have received the coveted award. The conferment of the Bharat Ratna was briefly suspended from July 13, 1977 to January 26, 1980.

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