Setting aside the barbs that characterised their exchanges in the recent past, Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked hand-in-hand and exchanged pleasantries with his political arch-rivals Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav during a pre-wedding ceremony for the Samajwadi Party chief’s grandnephew in Saifai village on Saturday.
Mulayam Singh personally invited Modi to the ‘tilak’ ceremony ahead of his grandnephew Tej Pratap Yadav’s marriage with Raj Laxmi, the youngest daughter of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) president Lalu Prasad Yadav, on February 26.
Modi spent nearly 20 minutes on a grand stage erected at the SP chief’s native village, 25 km from Etawah, in the company of Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad, both bitter critics of the prime minister and the NDA government in Delhi.
The Prime Minister, clad in a pale saffron kurta and a saffron waistcoat, grabbed Mulayam Singh’s hand and the duo walked hand-in-hand towards the stage. The crowd cheered at this gesture.
Lalu Prasad, who was already on the stage, joined them and all three waved to the large crowd. Mulayam Singh draped a shawl around Modi’s shoulders as a mark of respect.
While Modi was walking off the stage, Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh and Sharad Yadav, the top leaders of the so-called Janata Parivaar, held hands and raised them in a mark of solidarity. Modi stayed out of this gesture.
Mulayam Singh ushered Modi to an official guesthouse where he hosted a lunch for the prime minister. Modi was served delicacies from UP and Gujarat.
Amar Singh, the former national general secretary of the SP who quit the party in 2010, also came to bless Tej. He was followed by Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan, who came with a huge gift.
Numerous top politicians from across the country, Bollywood celebrities and captains of industry are expected to attend the ceremony. Members of Mulayam Singh’s family said one lakh invitations had been sent to relatives, local residents, politicians, journalists, judges and dignitaries from different fields.
The tilak ceremony is being described as the biggest event ever organised in Saifai. It has made the grand weddings of Mulayam Singh’s sons Akhilesh and Prateek look like minor affairs. Eight giant LED screens were installed at the pandal so that everyone could watch the proceeding. Numerous mobile LED screens beamed the event to people across Saifai.
SP insiders said a feast has been arranged for 1.5 lakh guest, including 3, 000 VVIPs and VIPs. Three thousand police personal have been deployed for security and 500 luxury Swiss cottages have been set up for the VVIPs.
Expert chefs whipped up an array of dishes, including traditional UP and Bihari cuisine and sweets. The menu included ‘sarrata’ (special sour raita), bedai, dahi-ke-aloo, baati-chokha, paneer-filled chola bhature, imarti, jalebi, rabri, sohan halwa, kulfi and moong daal halwa dripping with ghee.
Mulayam Singh, his brother, state minister Shivpal Singh Yadav, and nephew Dharmendra Yadav have been camping in Saifai to oversee preparations for the ceremony.
Officials of the local administration and police, including those from Kanpur Zone, have been zipping up and down roads leading to the venue to ensure there are no glitches.
Special arrangements were made for Modi and his ministerial colleagues. The dignitaries landed at an airstrip in Saifai, from where they covered a distance of about 11 km by road to reach the venue.
Video: Modi attends 'tilak' ceremony of SP chief Mulayam's grandnephew