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At Pranab Mukherjee’s Bharat Ratna event, Gandhi family conspicuous by absence

At Pranab Mukherjee’s Bharat Ratna event, Gandhi family conspicuous by absence

At Pranab Mukherjee’s Bharat Ratna event, Gandhi family conspicuous by absence
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By CNBC-TV18 Aug 9, 2019 1:41:15 PM IST (Published)

Mukherjee’s former party, the Congress, also congratulated the former president but the party’s first family members were conspicuously absent during the main event.

Former President Pranab Mukherjeee

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on Thursday received the Bharat Ratna — the highest civilian award in the country — which was also conferred to late social activist Nanaji Deshmukh and late singer-composer Bhupen Hazarika.

Many dignitaries in the central government, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu, were present when Mukherjee received the Bharat Ratna from his successor, Ram Nath Kovind, at a grand ceremony held in Rashtrapati Bhavan on Thursday.
Mukherjee’s former party, the Congress, also congratulated the former president but the party’s first family members were conspicuously absent during the main event.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and party general secretary Priyanak Gandhi were not seen at the event.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh was also absent at the event, which otherwise was attended by other leaders of the opposition party, including Anand Sharma, Ahmed Patel, Bhupender Singh Hooda, Janardan Dwivedi, RPN Singh, Sushmita Dev and Shashi Tharoor.
According to news reports, Rahul Gandhi was invited to the function by Rashtrapati Bhavan, but he skipped the event.
In Rahul’s defence, his public appearances have gone down significantly ever since he announced his decision to quit the post of Congress president.
But what remains unexplained is Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi’s absence and rekindles questions hovering around uneasy ties between the Gandhi family and Mukherjee.
Hand-picked by Indira Gandhi, Mukherjee has donned various hats in the government and party in a political career spanning five decades. But his biggest contribution to the Congress party has remained his problem-solving abilities over the years.
Yet that skillset along with plain-speaking at times kept Mukherjee from winning the trust of the Gandhi family in the post-Indira era.
In his books especially “The Turbulent Years (1986-1996)”, Pranab has described his own side-lining and ostracism in Rajiv years after his view that the senior-most minister should become caretaker prime minister after Indira’s assassination on October 31, 1984.
Come 2004, Mukherjee again fancied his chances along with many others in the Congress party as the preferred candidate for the post of PM after the Lok Sabha elections.
But he again lost out to Manmohan Singh because of the trust deficit despite working closely with the Gandhi family during Sonia Gandhi’s ascension as the party president.
Mukherjee's status remained as the No. 2 in the United Progressive Alliance government, serving in key ministries until he was chosen as the UPA’s candidate for the nation’s highest constitutional office.
But what probably burned the bridge with the Gandhi family came after Mukherjee’s decision to attend a meet of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the BJP, at Nagpur in June 2018. The decision was opposed by many senior Congress leaders.
The former President attended the RSS meet anyway, delivering an address on “pluralism and tolerance”.
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