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Bharat Ratna to Pranab: Humbled Cong weighs consequences

Bharat Ratna to Pranab: Humbled Cong weighs consequences
Pranab Mukherjee (File)
New Delhi, Jan 30 (AGENCIES) | Publish Date: 1/30/2019 12:26:41 PM IST

After the government announced the Bharat Ratna for Pranab Mukherjee on the eve of the 70th Republic Day, the Congress hailed the honour for “one of its own”.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi articulated the party’s response to the development by tweeting his congratulations.

“Congratulations to Pranab Da on being awarded the Bharat Ratna! The Congress Party takes great pride in the fact that the immense contribution to public service & nation building of one of our own, has been recognised & honoured,” Gandhi wrote, opening the doors for other Congress leaders to laud the award.

But the political messaging behind the move wasn’t lost on the Congress which has had its share of troubles with Mukherjee.

Party insiders called the decision of the BJP government to confer the Bharat Ratna on a Congress stalwart “a clever political move” ahead of the general election.

Though Rahul welcomed the award, history is testimony to the distrust Mukherjee and the Congress Party have shared in the past.

Most recently, the Congress was stunned when Mukherjee accepted the RSS invitation to address the Sangh’s valedictory event in Nagpur last year. In his speech, Mukherjee described RSS founder KB Hedgewar as “the great son of Mother India”, riling the Congress whose entire political narrative is anti-RSS.

Congress leaders then took heart from the fact that Mukherjee used the occasion at RSS headquarters to hammer India’s pluralism.

But privately all Congress persons were uncomfortable with Mukherjee’s visit to Nagpur, and the latter’s daughter, a Delhi Congress leader, even asked her father to reconsider the decision.

While reacting to the latest move, opposition JDS and AAP have concluded that the honour came because the ex-President went to Nagpur. The Congress leaders silently admitted to the far-reaching message the BJP government’s decision to fete a Congress man would send. “The government has placed Pranab Mukherjee in the league of Nehrus and Gandhis alongside Bharat Ratnas from the dynasty--late PMs Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi,” a Congress senior said.

Mukherjee’s relationship with the Congress, especially its former chief Sonia Gandhi, has been a matter of intrigue and debate.

The most vivid comment on the relationship came from former prime minister Manmohan Singh in 2017 when he said during Mukherjee’s book launch, “Pranab Mukherjee was my senior and better qualified for the job. He had his reasons to be upset when Soniaji chose me to be PM in 2004. But he knows I had no choice in the matter.” 

Earlier, when late PM Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, 1984, Mukherjee famously boarded a special Kolkata-New Delhi flight hoping to be anointed the PM being the seniormost in the Congress.

But the late PM’s pilot son Rajiv Gandhi was also on the flight. 

Rajiv upstaged Mukherjee to become the next PM. Mukherjee wasn’t inducted in the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet triggering his brief exit from the Congress which saw him float the Rashtriya Congress Party.

Mukherjee returned to the Congress in 1987 and was made the Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission.

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