Two-time Bihar chief minister and socialist leader Karpoori Thakur was on Tuesday named the 49th recipient of the nation’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna, posthumously, a Rashtrapati Bhawan communique said.
Announcing the award on the eve of his birth centenary, the communique said, “The President has been pleased to award Bharat Ratna to Shri Karpoori Thakur (posthumously).”
Thakur served as chief minister of Bihar twice—first for six months in December 1970 and later for two years in 1977.
Affectionately called ‘Jan Nayak’ (people’s leader) by his followers, Thakur was the pioneer of social justice politics in the country, introducing reservations for backward classes in the state in 1977.
Hailing Thakur, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the recognition is a testament to the socialist leader’s enduring efforts as a champion for the marginalized and a stalwart of equality and empowerment.
“I am delighted that the government of India has decided to confer the Bharat Ratna on the beacon of social justice, the great Jan Nayak Karpoori Thakur Ji and that too at a time when we are marking his birth centenary,” 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 honors his remarkable contributions but also inspires us to continue his mission of creating a more just and equitable society,” he added.
Born on 24 January 1924 in a Nai family (barber) in Samistupur district of Bihar, Thakur abandoned college education for the Indian freedom struggle. He was arrested between 1942 and 1945 for participating in the Quit India Movement.
In the post-Independence India, he was inspired by socialist heavyweights like Ram Manohar Lohia Jayaprakash Narayan. Coming from a marginalized community, he rose to become a key figure in the struggle against social discrimination and inequality.
Thakur was first elected to the Bihar assembly in 1952 during the first election after Independence.
In 1970, he became the first non-Congress socialist leader to rise to the chief minister’s post. He remained in office for six months before his Socialist Party lost power.
His second term came in 1977 after the Janata Party swept the assembly election held after the Emergency. He remained in office for nearly two years and is best remembered for the implementation of the recommendations of the Mungeri Lal Commission, providing quotas for backward classes in the state.
Thakur remained a member of the Bihar assembly until his death in 1988.