Pranab Mukherjee - former President and a life-long Congressman respected across party lines -- has received the country's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, from his successor President Ram Nath Kovind. The award ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on Thursday evening was attended by top leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hailed him as the "outstanding statesman of our times" when the names of the recipients were announced in January.
Two others received the award posthumously -- iconic singer Bhupen Hazarika and Nanaji Deshmukh, one of the founding members of Bharatiya Jan Sangh, which later evolved into the BJP.
"My heartfelt gratitude to Rashtrapatiji and the people of our nation for bestowing the Bharat Ratna on me. This honour is more for the people of our country from whom I have received much more than I have been able to give," Pranab Mukherjee tweeted.
Mr Mukerjee's term as President of India, a post enabled by the Congress, ended in 2017.
But the leader -- who dubbed himself Citizen Mukherjee after stepping down -- had made headlines, most notably last year with his controversial decision to attend an event of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological mentor of the BJP.
The 83-year-old had served as one of the most senior ministers in the Congress governments headed by Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh.
His proximity to the Gandhis and his ability to get opposition parties to the negotiating table during tricky impasses, made him one of the most respected political leaders across party lines.
Many considered him the sharpest mind in Manmohan Singh's cabinet, with a deep understanding of Indian politics, economic policies and strategic issues.
As a President, he had been a model of constitutional propriety, but still managed to speak his mind on contentious and even divisive issues.
After coming to office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had more than once acknowledged him as a mentor. The two had shared a cordial relation - one that was reflected in their warm praise of each other when Mr Mukherjee stepped down from the nation's highest office.
In his tweet congratulating Mr Mukherjee after the Bharat Ratna awardees -- recommended by his government -- was announced, PM Modi posted: "Pranab Da 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".
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