After AIADMK’s J Jayalalitha made an issue with the NDA in 2004 that chief ministers were not called for the president’s oath-taking function, the UPA this time extended an invitation to all chief ministers and governors. Many of them responded, turning up to see history being made with Pratibha Patil taking charge as the first woman president.
The list of chief ministers long and impressive: M Karunanidhi, Mayawati, Prakash Singh Badal, Vasundhra Raje, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Nitish Kumar, BC Khanduri, Raman Singh, Virbhadra Singh and Sheila Dixit. Among the governors spotted included SM Krishna, RS Gavai, SC Jamir, Syed Sibte Razi and SS Barnala.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi and BSP’s Mayawati share a good equation. And the Uttar Pradesh made a statement of it in the Central Hall. As she walked to her seat, followed by a retinue of BSP MPs, Mayawati saw Sonia sitting in the front row. She put her hand on the Congress chief’s shoulders and the two leaders then stood and spoke for some time. Mayawati also introduced some of her MPs to Sonia. Later the two were again seen conversing for some time.
Karunanidhi walked slowly into the Central Hall, with some assistance from Union Minister TR Baalu. He came and sat next to Sonia. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was sitting across the aisle, came up to greet the DMK leader. So did some other leaders.
Patil’s husband Devisingh Shekhawat sat in the front row next to BJP chief Rajnath Singh and the two were seen talking to each other for some time. If the BJP chief was at one end of the row, the party’s former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee was at the other extreme.
Vajpayee, like the Congress’s Ajit Jogi, came in a wheel chair. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat sat somewhere in the middle of the front row -- reflecting the situation in which he found himself caught when he entered the presidential race. He was so lost in himself that, barring at the end, he often did not join the others in clapping when Patil delivered her address. Leaders of Opposition LK Advani and Jaswant sat in the fourth row.
Both before and after the swearing in function, everyone, including Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and her husband Devisingh stood up in respect as the ceremonial procession went past them. Patil greeted everyone, her hands folded in a 'namaste'. The new president proved she is fluent both in Hindi and in English as she read out the text of her three-and-a-half page speech without fumbling, faltering or stumbling on any word.
Among the notable absentees at the function was CPM’s Prakash Karat whose insistence on a 'political' candidate for the presidency and a 'non political' nominee for the vice president’s post saw the ruling combine choose Pratibha Patil and Mohammad Hamid Ansari for the top two constitutional posts. Filmstars-turned-politicians also failed to show up.
They came in pairs. CPI’s AB Bardhan and D Raja entered together and, in a confluence of the red and the saffron, shook hands with the BJP’s Leaders of Opposition LK Advani and Jaswant Singh. While the two LoPs sat together, Bardhan went to the front row meant for party leaders, Raja stayed back. BJP’s Sushma Swaraj and S S Ahluwalia kept each other company.