Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said that tall leaders like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad would not have been conferred the Bharat Ratna if the "family" was in power.
He was referring to Nehru-Gandhi family that has consistently been at the helm of the Congress party, barring a few years in-between, since Independence.
"I am sorry to say to my Congress friends, if the family were in power in the 1990s, leaders like Sardar Patel and Maulana Azad would not have got the honours they deserve," Prasad said in the Rajya Sabha while moving the customary motion of thanks to the President for his address to Parliament.
Bhimrao Ambedkar (death 1956), Sardar Patel (d. 1950) and Maulana Azad (d. 1958) were posthumously conferred with Bharat Ratna in the years 1990, 1991 and 1992 respectively.
Prasad said that although these great leaders of India's freedom struggle passed away in the 1950s, they were not given the Bharat Ratna — the country's highest civilian honour — for several decades.
"Several people have contributed in building the nation called India. Their ideologies may be differing, but we must recognise their contributions and their sacrifices for this nation," Prasad said.
"What were the powers scuttling the recognition of the services of these leaders to the nation, it must be thought over," he said.
The minister said that had the "family" been in power in the years when Azad, Ambedkar and Patel were given the honour, it "would have taken an Atal Bihari Vajpayee or a Narendra Modi government to confer Bharat Ratna on them".
Prasad added that the Narendra Modi government is recognising the contributions of the common people of the country and honouring them.
"This year, there is a marked change in the way Padma awards are given. Our government has recognised the contributions of the common people and have honoured them in the spirit of 'sabka sath, sabka vikas'," he said.
Citing the examples of Karimul Haque from West Bengal, Meenakshi Amma from Kerala and Daryapalli Ramanna from Telangana, who have been conferred with Padma Shree this year, Prasad said these are ordinary people who have served the society and the nation in an extraordinary way and their services need to be recognised.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has always accused the Congress of promoting nepotism and superiority of one family (the Nehru-Gandhi family).