New Delhi, April 4: Pope John Paul II will be officially mourned in India in instalments, that too not without a trace of controversy.
The government today realised that the three-day mourning will clash with the visit of the Uzbek President, forcing it to split the mourning into two phases.
'Three days' state mourning starting from April 3 was announced by the Centre on the passing of Pope John Paul II. It has been decided that the three-day state mourning shall be observed as follows. Two-day state mourning on Sunday and Monday (which ended today) and one-day state mourning on the day of his funeral,' a home ministry spokesperson said.
Sources said the decision has been taken to accommodate Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who arrived today and will start his official engagements from tomorrow.
The three-day mourning has also prompted the Opposition to raise questions and wonder whether it had anything to do with Sonia Gandhi's Catholic origins.
'We feel sad at the Pope's death. But India is not a religious country and, therefore, it sets a bad precedent to have three-day mourning for the Pope,' said BJP spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
He asked whether the government would follow the same policy when a Hindu religious leader or a leader of an Islamic nation dies. 'These are questions that the government must answer.'
The Congress decided to stay away from the controversy, but the CPI came out in Sonia's defence. CPI leader A.B. Bardhan said: 'There is nothing wrong in having a three-day mourning for the Pope. It is part of the government's protocol and has nothing to do with Sonia Gandhi.'
Foreign ministry sources said the same policy was followed when Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Sheikh Zayed of the United Arab Emirates died. They said the Pope is not only a revered religious leader but also a head of state as Vatican City has the status of a sovereign country.
Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat is likely to head the Indian delegation to the Vatican for the funeral of Pope John Paul to be held on Friday.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh discussed the issue with Shekhawat and the details, including names of members of the delegation that will have leaders of different parties, are being worked out.
In 1978, when Pope John Paul I died, India was represented by the then minister of state for external affairs, Samarendra Kundu. This time, if Shekhawat leads the team, it will be a conscious decision on India's part to elevate the rank of the head of the delegation.