The 16th Lok Sabha assembled for the first time on Wednesday, presenting a new-look House in complete contrast to the last. With its numbers having swollen to 280, against 114 in 2009, an upbeat BJP occupied the treasury benches. The Congress, with 44 seats, looked a pale shadow of its normal self, squeezed into a few rows on the opposition benches.
The mood of the House was different too. Members of the Congress, Left parties and their fellow travellers, who would miss no opportunity to taunt the BJP members with verbal attacks on Narendra Modi in his absence, appeared resigned to the new reality as Modi walked in a little before the proceedings began. The BJP members thumped their desks and sprang to their feet, their hands folded, to greet the Prime Minister.
Modi stopped by to greet Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and others. All his former detractors seemed keen on exchanging pleasantries with him. Just then, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, walking down the aisle, found herself face-to-face with Modi. Both folded their hands and exchanged a few words before Modi paced back to his seat.
Quite a few members in saffron robes, including Adityanath (Gorakhpur), Chand Nath (Alwar), Sumedhanand (Sikar) and Niranjan Jyoti (Bahraich), stood out, reflecting the upsurge of the Hindutva brigade. BJP stalwart L K Advani, although marginalised in the current power play, sat next to Modi. Home Minister Rajnath Singh sat next to him, followed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Venakaih Naidu, Ram Vilas Paswan and Murli Manohar Joshi.
On the other side, Congress floor leader Mallikarjun Kharge occupied the seat earmarked for the Leader of Opposition, probably in anticipation of a favourable decision by the new Speaker. Sonia sat on the next bench in the company of former minister Veerappa Moily and K H Muniyappa.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu told the media later that no inferences needed to be drawn from the way the members occupied the seats on Wednesday.
A clear pecking order would emerge only after the Speaker allocates quotas of blocs to different parties and they in turn allot seats to individual members. He repeated that the government was studying all precedents, Rules and Acts to take a call on the issue of recognition of a Leader of Opposition.
Rahul Gandhi sat in the back rows with Shashi Tharoor. Those occupying front rows on the Opposition side included Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sudip Bandyopadhyay (TMC), Arjun Charan Sethi (BJD) and M Thambidurai (AIADMK).
Senior Congress member Kamal Nath, who was sworn in as the pro tem Speaker by President Pranab Mukherjee, took the chair. He read out an obituary reference to Rural Development Minister Gopinath Munde and adjourned the House till Thursday.