Morarji Desai — the Indian Prime Minister who won Pakistan’s highest civilian honour

Former PM Morarji Desai is credited with leading a phase of peace in India-Pakistan ties in the 1970s. But his relationship with Islamabad has evoked much controversy.

SIMRIN SIRUR 29 February, 2020

Morarji Desai | Wikipedia
Morarji Desai | Wikipedia

New Delhi: When the Modi government awarded the Padma Shri to singer Adnan Sami, an Indian citizen of Pakistani origin, last month, the opposition was up in arms, with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) calling it an “insult to 130 crore Indians”.

Sami’s father was a fighter pilot in the Pakistan Air Force and part of the raid that destroyed the Pathankot air base during the 1965 Indo-Pak war. London-born Sami himself, however, acquired Indian citizenship in 2016 after the Pakistan government didn’t renew his passport a year earlier. 

The opposition may have expressed anger at the government honouring a Pakistani with India’s fourth highest civilian award, but this was not the first time such a thing happened. Three decades earlier, Pakistan had conferred its highest civilian honour on an Indian — a former prime minister no less.

Morarji Desai, who served a two-year stint as India’s first non-Congress prime minister in the immediate aftermath of the Emergency, was awarded the Nishan-e-Pakistan in 1988. 

The award drew the ire of the Congress, but Desai paid no heed to the criticism and accepted the award anyway. 

On Desai’s 124th birth anniversary, 29 February 2020, ThePrint looks back at Desai’s relationship with Pakistan, and why he won their highest civilian honour. 

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