NEW DELHI: Congress chief Rahul Gandhi's Iftar party on Wednesday evening -- his first since taking over the party -- turned a massive show of opposition strength. But the most-watched face there was former President Pranab Mukherjee, whose decision to attend an RSS function had recently caused consternation in the ranks of the Congress, his party of five decades.
A video and photographs shared by the Congress on Twitter showed the former President sitting next to Rahul Gandhi -- their first meeting since the controversy broke.
There was a buzz that Mukherjee was dropped from the Congress guest list after he attended an RSS valedictory function on June 7.
Many leaders, incluading Mukherjee's daughter Sharmishtha Mukherjee, were apprehensive that his very presence at the function will hand the BJP a potent weapon against the Congress. While the Congress later said Mukherjee, with his address, reminded the BJP and its ideological mentor about "India's pluralism, tolerance, secularism and inclusiveness" a section still questioned Mukherjee's decision.
The speculation about Mukherjee's exclusion was also fed by the comments of Shiv Sena. The fractious ally of the BJP said the party was keeping Mukherjee in reserve as insurance for coming to power next year. If the BJP fell short of numbers, Mukherjee's name might be proposed as the Prime Ministerial candidate, the Sena said. The Congress, however, staunched speculation, saying the former President has accepted Rahul Gandhi's invitation.
The Iftar at Delhi's Taj Palace Hotel, organized by the Congress after two years, was attended by CPM's Sitaram Yechury, DMK's Kanimozhi, RJD's Manoj Jha and Sharad Yadav. West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee sent Dinesh Trivedi as her representative, and Mayawati sent SC Mishra. Danish Ali, leader of Karnataka's Janata Dal Secular, was also present. So were former President Pratibha Patil and former Vice-President Hamid Ansari. A notable absentee was the Aam Aadmi Party, with which the Congress is at loggerheads in Delhi. The big opposition get together is the first since Janata Dal Secular chief HD Kumaraswamy's oath in Bengaluru earlier this month. AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal had attended that meeting.