Pranab Mukherjee, India's 13th President and one of the Congress' tallest leaders for decades, has been awarded the Bharat Ratna, the country's highest civilian honour. Along with Mr Mukherjee, social activist and one of the BJP's senior-most leaders Nanji Deshmukh and music maestro from Assam, Bhupen Hazarika, have been awarded posthumously.
Mr Mukherjee, reacting to the honour, said he has always received more from the people of the country than he has given them. "It is with a deep sense of humility and gratitude to the people of India that I accept this great honour #BharatRatna bestowed upon me. I have always said and I repeat, that I have got more from the people of our great country than I have given to them. #CitizenMukherjee (sic)" he tweeted.
Among the very first to congratulate the awardees was Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He tweeted to say that Pranab Mukherjee is an "outstanding statesman of our times."
"He has served the nation selflessly and tirelessly for decades, leaving a strong imprint on the nation's growth trajectory. His wisdom and intellect have few parallels. Delighted that he has been conferred the Bharat Ratna," the PM tweeted for the former president.
In a political career spanning nearly five decades, Mr Mukherjee has served as the Finance Minister, Defence Minister and also the Foreign Minister during the UPA's rule at the centre. He then went on to serve as President of India from 2012 and 2017.
Congratulating the former president, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said his party takes great pride that Mr Mukherjee's contribution to public service has been recognized.
"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 and nation building of one of our own, has been recognised and honoured," Mr Gandhi tweeted.
Last year, Mr Mukherjee's decision to accept an invite by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, the BJP's ideological mentor, to attend their function in Nagpur had rattled the Congress, his party of nearly 50 years. Some leaders, including Mr Mukherjee's daughter Sharmistha Mukherjee, openly said it will play into the BJP's hands by offering them a devastating political weapon.
Among the other two recipients of the Bharat Ratna this year, social activist Nanaji Deshmukh was one of the senior-most BJP members. He also played a crucial role in the social restructuring programme in 500 villages in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. He died in 2010 at the age of 93. Dr Bhupen Hazarika, a music maestro from Assam is a recipient of Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Padmashri and Padmabhushan. He was also awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the country's second-highest civilian honour, in 2012. He died in November 2011 at the age of 85.
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