Two-time Bihar chief minister Karpoori Thakur, considered the fountainhead of OBC politics in Bihar, has been named for the country’s highest civilian award Bharat Ratna posthumously, a Rashtrapati Bhawan communique said on Tuesday on the eve of his birth centenary.
Thakur, who passed away in 1988, was the first non-Congress socialist leader who became chief minister twice — first for seven months in December 1970 and later for two years in 1977.
“The President has been pleased to award Bharat Ratna to Shri Karpoori Thakur (posthumously),” the communique said.
Thakur, known affectionately as ‘Jan Nayak’ (people’s leader), is the 49th recipient of the country’s highest civilian award. The award was last conferred on late president Pranab Mukherjee in 2019.
Born on January 24, 1924 in Nai samaj (barber society), Thakur is credited in Bihar politics for enforcing total prohibition of alcohol in 1970. The village where he was born in Samistupur district was renamed after him as Karpuri Gram.
Thakur abandoned college education for the Indian freedom struggle and was arrested between 1942 and 1945 for participating in the Quit India Movement.
He was inspired by heavyweights like Ram Manohar Lohia who spearheaded the socialist movement in post-Independent India. He was also close to Jayaprakash Narayan.
Thakur’s tenure as chief minister is best remembered for implementation of the recommendations of the Mungeri Lal Commission, whereby quotas for backward classes were introduced in the state. This panel was a forerunner of the Mandal Commission.
A highlight of the Mungeri Lal Commission was a separate sub-category called Most Backward Classes, which provided the template for the ‘ati pichhda’ plank built by Nitish Kumar years later.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said this recognition is a testament to the socialist leader’s enduring efforts as a champion for the marginalised and a stalwart of equality.
In a post on X, Modi said, “His unwavering commitment to uplift the downtrodden and his visionary leadership have left an indelible mark on India’s socio-political fabric. This award not only honours his remarkable contributions but also inspires us to continue his mission of creating a more just and equitable society.”
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar hailed the announcement and said it was a “fulfilment of an age old demand” by his party JD(U) that will “send a positive message among deprived sections of the society”.
Officials said the Bharat Ratna is a significant recognition of a remarkable leader who was a stalwart of social justice and an inspiring figure in Indian politics.
This award is a tribute to Thakur’s lifelong dedication to the uplift of the underprivileged sections of society and his relentless fight for social justice.
His simplicity in his personal conduct was highly inspiring and contribution to Indian politics has been monumental, the officials said.
Being born in one of the most backward sections of society, Thakur was a remarkable leader whose political journey was marked by his unwavering commitment to the marginalised sections of society.
He was a key figure in the struggle against social discrimination and inequality and his commitment to affirmative action gave representation and opportunities to the poor, oppressed, exploited and deprived sections of the country, the officials said.
During his career, his policies and reforms were pioneering in bringing about significant changes in the lives of many, especially in the fields of education, employment and farmer welfare.
By honouring Thakur, the government recognises his role as a symbol of democracy and social justice and also acknowledges his deep impact as a motivating figure for the marginalised sections of society, the officials said.
His life and work embody the spirit of the Constitution, which advocates for equality, fraternity, and justice for all.
The officials said the award is not only a recognition of Thakur’s past achievements but also serves as an inspiration for future generations.
“It is a reminder of the values that Thakur stood for – simplicity, inclusiveness, and the tireless pursuit of social justice,” an official said.
Thakur was first elected to Bihar assembly in 1952 where he continued until his death in 1988.