Former President and veteran Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee was presented the Bharat Ratna, by President Ramnath Kovind, today evening. Mukherjee was named for India’s highest civilian honour in January along with renowned musician Bhupen Hazarika and Bharatiya Jan Sangh founder Nanaji Deshmukh.
Mukherjee, 83, served the country as its 13th President for five years from July 25, 2012 and emerged in the role as a respected and admired leader whose words were heard with attention.
At Rashtrapati Bhavan, Mukherjee worked with two prime ministers – Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi and showed a natural ease in his relationship with PM Modi who belonged to the party he had strongly opposed in his political career.
He returned to the presidential palace this evening to receive the award from President Ramnath Kovind, who had succeeded him. Mukherjee also greeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi after receiving the award.
The last time Bharat Ratnas were conferred was in 2015, when educationalist-politician Madan Mohan Malviya and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee were the recipients. A total of 48 Bharat Ratnas have been conferred by India since the honour was instituted in 1954 with father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi, President S Radhakrishnan and scientist CV Raman the first recipients.
The government’s choice had come as a surprise to many within the opposition party and beyond. Prime Minister Modi and others from the ruling coalition often cite this decision to make the point that the Congress doesn’t credit its performers unless it was from the Gandhi family.
He made the same point during a discussion on a motion of thanks to the President for his address to parliament’s joint sitting, underlining that it was his government that had conferred Pranab Mukherjee with the Bharat Ratna.