Two key leaders of opposition parties -- senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and CPM's former Bengal Chief Minister Buddhdeb Bhattacharjee -- were on the list of the Padma awardees announced by the Centre on the eve of the 73rd Republic Day. Both were awarded the Padma Bhushan.
A Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award in India, was conferred posthumously on Kalyan Singh -- former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh -- on the eve of assembly elections in the state.
The Central award for Ghulam Nabi Azad -- a senior leader from Jammu and Kashmir -- comes amid a churn within the Congress over leadership issues.
Mr Azad has been among the party veterans calling sweeping organisational changes and a permanent accountable leadership.
The party has already lost a number of senior leaders -- an exodus that started with the exit of Jyotiraditya Scindia and his 22 loyalists in Madhya Pradesh. Among the big names that departed since are forer Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Jitin Prasada and earlier today, RPN Singh.
Mr Azad, however, has put at rest all speculation about his exit, calling himself a "24-Carat Congressman".
"Warm congratulations to Shri @ghulamnazad on his Padma Bhushan. It is good to be recognized for one's public service even by a government of the other side," tweeted Mr Azad's party colleague Shashi Tharoor soon after the Padma announcements.
The senior leader had hailed Mr Azad as "the only Congressman who has reduced the PM to tears!" during his retirement from Rajya Sabha in February last year.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee headed the CPM's government at its citadel in Bengal till it suffered a massive defeat at the hands of Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress in 2011.
In a major embarrassment for the government, Mr Bhattacharjee, an arch-critic of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi – has issued a statement declining the award. "I don't know anything about the Padma Bhushan. No one has told me anything about it. If indeed they have given me the Padma Bhushan, then I reject it," read his statementi.
Public refusal of Padma awards is extremely rare, since the awardees are mandatorily informed about the award in advance and the list is announced only after their acceptance. Home ministry officials explained the flub saying Mr Bhattacharjee's wife was conveyed the decision on Padma Bhushan and she had thanked the Home Secretary for it.
The other recipients of the Padma awards included General Bipin Rawat, India's first Chief of Defence Staff who was killed last year in a helicopter crash, vaccine makers Krishna Ella, Suchitra Ella, Cyrus Poonawalla, and Indian-origin Silicon Valley titans Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai.
Classical vocalists Dr Parbha Atre and Rashid Khan were also on the list.
Among sports persons, the list included Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra, Paralympic gold medallists Devendra Jhajharia Sumit Antil and Pramod Bhagat.
This year's list comprises four Padma Vibhushan, 17 Padma Bhushan and 107 Padma Shri Awards. 34 of the awardees are women and 13 posthumous awardees, the government announcement said.