Pranab Mukherjee, who passed away at 84 on August 31 after he said that he has tested positive for COVID-19 and underwent a brain surgery on August 10, has had a long political innings, most of which he spent with the Congress party.
In recent years, however, observers have noted that the relationship between the Congress veteran and the Grand Old Party had turned a little uncomfortable if not entirely sour.
These were not just mere murmurs and whispers, but there were public displays of discomfort as well: the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) invitation to Mukherjee for an event, and his acceptance of it; and the Bharat Ratna being conferred upon him under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's dispensation must have caused a lot of heartburn to Congress leadership, experts have suggested.
Not that that was the first time Mukherjee has been at odds with his party. While he stood rock-solid with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, even through the Emergency period, after her assassination in 1984, his relationship with the party became uneasy for some time.
After the 1984 Lok Sabha polls, in which Congress managed to post a thumping victory, Rajiv Gandhi announced his Cabinet minus Mukherjee's presence. 'Pranab da', as he was fondly known, was, in his own words, "shell-shocked and flabbergasted".
"I could not believe it. But I composed myself and sat alongside my wife as she watched the swearing-in ceremony on television," he wrote in his memoir. Following this, he decided to form his own political outfit, called the Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress (RSC) in 1986, though it was merged with the Congress three years later, paving way for Mukherjee to re-enter the Congress fold.
Cut to 2018, when Mukherjee walked up the podium to address an RSS event at the organisation's headquarters in Nagpur.
While there, he spoke on the topic of nationalism, patriotism and the nation in Indian context, drawing in on the history of India and the multiplicity of cultures in it. However, several leaders across political spectrum were surprised by Mukherjee's decision to address an RSS gathering, with some even questioning his loyalty to his party and its ideals.
A year later, when Mukherjee was to be conferred with India's highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna, with some clubbing his attendance at the RSS event with the award. While Congress' Rahul Gandhi was quick to congratulate Mukherjee, he decided to skip the ceremony along with his mother, Sonia Gandhi.
The ceremony, however, was attended by other senior party leaders, including Ahmed Patel, Anand Sharma and Shashi Tharoor among others. Reports have suggested that apart from these two events, there were other signs of cracks appearing between Mukherjee and the Congress party. For instance, the reported warmth between Mukherjee and PM Modi did not go down well with the grand old party's top leadership, and contributed to the Gandhi family's trust deficit in the then-President.