New Delhi: 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.
Other prominent personalities at the dinner included Mukherjee's predecessor Pratibha Patil and former prime minister Manmohan Singh, besides former vice president Hamid Ansari.
While top opposition leaders were conspicuous by their absence, middle-rung leaders of many parties were at the Iftar. Among other leaders included CPI-M's Sitaram Yechury, BSP's Satish Chandra Misra, TMC's Dinesh Trivedi and DMK's Kanimozhi.
Breakaway JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, JD(S) leader Danish Ali, JMM's Hemant Soren, NCP's DP Tripathy, RJD's Manoj Jha, AIUDF leader Badruddin Ajmal, RLD's Mehrajuddin also attended the party.
"Good food, friendly faces and great conversation make for a memorable Iftar! We were honoured to have two former Presidents, Pranab Da and Smt Pratibha Patil ji join us, along with leaders from different political parties, the media, diplomats and many old and new friends," Gandhi said on Twitter after the Iftar.
There had been rumours that Mukherjee had been dropped from the invite list at the last minute as Gandhi was upset with him for attending the RSS visit, but animosity, if any, was not visible during the dinner.
This was the first meeting between the two since Mukherjee’s visit to Nagpur on June 7. Photos tweeted by the Congress showed that Mukherjee was seated next to Gandhi and the two were engaged in a deep conversation.
But Mukherjee left after a short while. The Congress chief offered to drop him back but he politely refused.
Many leaders, including Mukherjee's daughter Sharmishtha Mukherjee and Sonia Gandhi’s close aide Ahmed Patel had voiced concerns that his visit to the RSS event will give the BJP ammunition to attack the Congress ahead of the crucial 2019 elections.
Several Congress leaders had also that they were disappointed in Mukherjee, but the tone changed after his speech, in which he spoke about tolerance and secularism. The Congress later said that the former President had showed the mirror of truth to the Sangh.
Besides pleasantries and photo ops at the luxury hotel, the short conversation at Gandhi's table revolved around the prime minister's fitness video put out by him on Twitter this morning.
Gandhi described it as "ridiculous" and "bizarre" and asked Yechury to put out his own fitness video in return, as he poked fun at the prime minister.
Earlier, leaders of some opposition parties met at a different location to discuss possibilities of a larger alliance. Kanimozhi later said, "Everyone wants alliances but today's meeting was a courtesy meeting."
Also present at the Iftar were a large gathering of diplomats, especially from the Islamic countries, including the Ambassador of Russia to India. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was not present as she is currently abroad on a media check-up.
Top Congress leaders including many former chief ministers and governors and ex-central ministers were present. These included Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ambika Soni, Janardan Dwivedi, Anand Sharma, Veerappa Moily, Jairam Ramesh, Mukul Wasnik, KV Thomas, Shivraj Chouhan, PJ Kurien and former chief ministers Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Prithviraj Chavan and Shiela Dikshit.