New Delhi, September 1: President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, chiefs of the three defence services and politicians cutting across party lines paid their last respects to former president Pranab Mukherjee at his residence on Tuesday.
The mortal remains of India’s 13th president, who died on Monday after a three-week battle with multiple ailments, were taken to his residence from the Army’s Research and Referral hospital in a flower bedecked white vehicle.
The last rites will be conducted at the Lodi Road crematorium in the afternoon.
As the nation observed seven-day mourning in honour of its “Bharat Ratna”, a long-time Congress politician and one of India’s most respected people in public life, a host of leaders and others visited his 10 Rajaji Marg residence.
Following COVID-19 protocols such as maintaining social social distancing and wearing masks, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, BJP chief J P Nadda, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and several Union ministers such as Nirmala Sitharaman and Harsh Vardhan were among those who paid homage to him.
Leaders paid floral tributes to a photo of Mukherjee, while his remains were kept in another room.
Besides the ‘VIPs’, workers of various parties and the general public stood in long queues maintaining social distancing, wearing masks and carrying bouquets as they waited patiently to catch a glimpse of Mukherjee for one last time.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, Army Chief Gen M M Naravane, Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria and Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh visited the late president’s home to condole his death.
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, CPI general secretary D Raja and BJP leader Jyotiraditya Scindia were also there to pay their respect to a man who had spent more than five decades in public life and was admired as a “consensus builder”.
“Whether people agreed with him or not, he was very forthright in articulating his views keeping in view the interests of the country,” Raja told reporters.
Rajya Sabha MP Vijay Goel said Mukherjee never differentiated between leaders of ruling party and the Opposition.
“He was an excellent politician, orator… For the Congress, he was the helmsman. He won the the hearts of everyone. Our prime minister respected him so much, one can imagine, how important he was for the country. He was a true Bharat Ratna,” Goel told reporters.
Mukherjee, 84, leaves behind his daughter and two sons.
“I am planning to build a museum cum library in his memory on one floor, first or the ground, at our house in Jangipur in West Bengal,” his son Abhijeet Mukherjee said, an acknowledgment of his father’s enduring connect with his home state.
Mukherjee was admitted to the Research and Referral Hospital on August 10 and was operated for a removal of a clot in the brain the same day. He also tested positive for COVID-19 during his admission and was being treated for a lung infection.
The statesman and scholar, known for his encyclopaedic memory and sharp intellect, served as the country’s first citizen from 2012 to 2017.
In 1982, he became India’s youngest finance minister when he was just 47. In the years that followed, he served as India’s minister for External Affairs, Defence, Finance and Commerce and was the first Indian president to have done so.
Mukherjee had the distinction of serving three prime ministers as minister — Indira Gandhi, P V Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh – and was the party’s trusted Man Friday as it evolved over the decades.
The seven-time parliamentarian was also India’s only non-prime minister who was leader of the Lok Sabha for eight years. He was also leader of the Rajya Sabha from 1980-85.
Mukherjee’s tenure as president will stand out for the tough stance he took on mercy petitions. Of the 34 mercy petitions presented to him, he rejected 30. (PTI)