Rahul Gandhi’s first Iftar party after taking over as Congress president became a stage for the Opposition to show its strength as he was joined by a bouquet of leaders from his own party as well as several regional parties.
But the centre of attention at the dinner in a luxury hotel was former President Pranab Mukherjee, who was in the eye of a storm and the butt of criticism from some Congress leaders for going to the RSS headquarters recently.
Gandhi sat next to Pranab Mukherjee, in an apparent signal that the former President’s controversial visit to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh headquarters was a thing of the past. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Former President Pratibha Patil, former Vice President Hamid Ansari, Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury, senior Bahujan Samaj Party leader Satish Mishra, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Kanimozhi and Trinamool’s Dinesh Trivedi were also present at the table.
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. pic.twitter.com/TM0AfORXQa
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) June 13, 2018
This was the second such gathering of the Opposition forces after United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s dinner in March this year. According to observers, Gandhi referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new fitness video posted on Twitter and asked if others had seen it. He then quipped: “I found it bizarre. It’s bizarre.”
He was also heard asking Mukherjee about his views on the unprecedented US-North Korea summit.
Many Congress leaders, including Mr Mukherjee’s daughter Sharmishtha Mukherjee, were apprehensive that his very presence at the function would hand the BJP a potent weapon against the Congress. the Congress later said Mr Mukherjee, with his address, reminded the BJP and its ideological mentor about “India’s pluralism, tolerance, secularism and inclusiveness” but a section still questioned Mr Mukherjee’s decision.
Mukherjee, whose acceptance of the RSS invite became a matter of big controversy, greeted those present at the function as he moved among the guests. Rahul Gandhi welcomed him and other guests.
There was even speculation whether Mukherjee would be invited but the party issued an official statement to set at rest any such reports by saying that the former President has indeed been invited.