Rahul Gandhi wearing a skull cap — although fleetingly — sharing the dinner table with former President Pranab Mukherjee, who only last week shared the stage with the RSS at its Nagpur headquarters, and even taking a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fitness video, calling it “bizarre”. With most top Opposition leaders —Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, among others — giving Rahul’s first iftaar as Congress president a miss, these were the images that stood out Wednesday.
The Samajwadi Party was unrepresented at the event. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, too, was not present —she is yet to return from abroad. The toast of the event was Mukherjee, who came face to face with Rahul for the first time at a public event since his visit to the RSS headquarters. Also at the table was Mukherjee’s predecessor at Rashtrapati Bhavan, Pratibha Patil.
The absence of top leaders of opposition parties — barring CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury and JMM’s Hemant Soren— was, however, noted. Comparisons were immediately made with the last Congress iftaar hosted by Sonia Gandhi in 2015. Sitting next to Rahul then was Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, who joined hands with the BJP last year.
The CPI(M) had skipped it, apparently uncomfortable with the idea of sharing a table with a Trinamool Congress leader. Politburo member Mohammed Salim was to attend, but the party had a change of heart at the last minute. On Wednesday, Yechury shared a table with Trinamool’s Dinesh Trivedi.
Rahul Gandhi was in a jovial mood, fleetingly wearing a skull cap offered by a Congress worker. He took it off within seconds. He engaged in a conversation with Mukherjee, even waiting to receive the former President at the entrance of the venue. Sharing the table with Gandhi, Mukherjee and Patil were Yechury, Trivedi, BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra, DMK’s Kanimozhi and former Vice President Hamid Ansari.
Taking a swipe at Modi’s fitness video, Rahul was heard saying, “Did you see the PM’s fitness video? It is bizarre…” He then asked Yechury to put out his fitness video to match Modi’s.
Former PM Manmohan Singh sat quietly at another table with the likes of Sharad Yadav, Sheila Dikshit, Rajya Sabha deputy chairman P J Kurien, JD(S)’s Danish Ali, RJD’s Manoj Jha, AIUDF’s Badruddin Ajmal and Congress Rajya Sabha MP Vivek Tankha.
RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav was not present since he was hosting an iftaar in Patna. Also missing were National Conference leader and former J&K CM Omar Abdullah and RLD’S Ajit Singh. Abdullah and Pawar were present at the 2015 iftaar.
The NCP was represented by D P Tripathi. Rahul later tweeted, “Good food, friendly faces and great conversation make for a memorable Iftar! We were honoured to have two former Presidents, Pranab Da & Smt Pratibha Patil ji join us, along with leaders from different political parties, the media, diplomats and many old & new friends.”