New Delhi: Veteran CPM leader and former West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Tuesday rejected the Padma Bhushan award.
“I know nothing about this award. No one has told me anything about it. If they have decided to offer Padma Bhushan to me, I refuse to accept it,” he said in a statement.
According to the central government, the Union Home Secretary had spoken with Mr Bhattacharjee’s wife about the award this morning. She had accepted the award and said thanks, Home Ministry officials said, explaining the flub.
A staunch critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, the 77-year-old has been suffering from age-related ailments along with heart and lung conditions for quite some time and has largely retracted himself from public appearances.
Rejection of the Padma Awards are extremely rare – recipients are required to confirm acceptance before the announcement.
Film writer Salim Khan had said he had refused to accept a Padma Shri in 2015. Before him, historian Romila Thapar had refused a Padma Bhushan in 2005, having returned her 1974 award in 1984 over the siege of the Golden Temple by the Indian Army.
Author Khushwant Singh had also returned his 1974 Padma Bhushan in 1984 over the same issue but he accepted the Padma Vibhushan in 2007.
Mr Bhattacharjee, a lifelong Marxist, was the second of two prominent opposition figures named for the Padma Awards this year. Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, part of a dissident group in the party that has questioned its leadership, was the other.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who has stood by the Gandhi family amid the discord, took a dig at Mr Azad and praised Mr Bhattacharjee, tweeting, “Right thing to do. He wants to be Azad (Independent) not Ghulam (Slave).”