NEW DELHI: After his much discussed visit to the RSS headquarters, former President Pranab Mukherjee cornered most of the attention at an iftar hosted by Congress president Rahul Gandhi, setting at rest speculation of an open rift with the party brass.
The iftar, billed as a political event, saw Congress allies attending but most were represented by second-rung leaders as party chiefs stayed away, exceptions being CPM and JMM whose leaders Sitaram Yechury and Hemant Soren turned up while DMK was represented by Kanimozhi.
Expelled JD(S) leader Sharad Yadav was also present. On other hand, Samajwadi Party did not turn up and National Conference too was not seen. BSP chief Mayawati was absent and was represented by Rajya Sabha MP Satish Mishra.
The representatives of allies came early in the evening and chatted with Rahul Gandhi in a room where only a few were present. But as politicians and invitees mingled under the gilded ceiling of a hall in Taj Palace hotel, the name on every lips, or minds, was of Mukherjee. The speculations of last few days following his chief guest act at the saffron citadel in Nagpur appeared to have had an effect.
But the anticipation among guests evaporated as the diminutive Mukherjee, walled off by security, walked in with folded hands, his trademark. Chaperoning him was Rahul and they settled on a table, shared by former President Pratibha Patil, Yechury and TMC’s Dinesh Trivedi. What followed between Mukherjee and Gandhi, a personal chat of sorts, could ease the flutter in many Congress hearts.
The room saw leaders making a beeline for Mukherjee. Former Union minister Jairam Ramesh, who wrote a letter to the senior leader objecting to his Nagpur trip, was seen resisting pleas from colleagues to break the ice.
The Nagpur sojourn had caused unhappiness in Congress as the sharing of stage with RSS signalled that Mukherjee didn’t see the Sangh as a political untouchable. In the bustle of the busy room, a guest gifted a skull cap to the Congress president.
The Gandhi scion wore it, was photographed and removed it after moments. While iftar, though a Congress institution, presented a contrast with Rahul’s recent temple run, the young party mascot has on many occasions said he visits temples, mosques, gurudwaras and church, wherever he is invited.
Among the allies were Danish Ali of JD(S), DP Tripathi of NCP and Manoj Jha of RJD. Congress leaders Manmohan Singh, Ahmed Patel, Mallikarjuna Kharge, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ashok Gehlot, PChidambaram, Anand Sharma, Rajiv Shukla, present and former MPs and ministers from states were busy meeting each other. Faces like poet Waseem Barelvi and actor Nafeesa Ali were also in the crowd.
Former JNU student leader and firebrand critic of PM Narendra Modi Shehla Rashid was also spotted. Sonia Gandhi is still abroad for medical check-up and is likely to return on Saturday.