Present at Sonias dinner table were Lalu Prasad and Sharad Yadav, the RJD and JD(U) chieftains from Bihar whose parties battled fiercely against each other for nearly two decades, but have joined hands now to stop the saffron surge in the state after the Lok Sabha elections which saw the BJP bagging 31 of the 40 seats.
NCP supremo Sharad Pawar chose to stay away, sending instead his deputy Tariq Anwar. RLDs Ajit Singh was missing too. The secular bandwagon, be it the Left parties, Samajwadi Party or the BSP, was unrepresented. Top Congress leaders said the absence of many was because the day being a Sunday and that the Parliament too was not meeting on Monday and Tuesday.
We have received several letters, a senior leader said.
The whos who of the Congress, barring its leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, were present.
Sonia sat with Lalu, Sharad Yadav and Anwar. And giving her company was veteran Congress leader Mohsina Kidwai. Yadav, who was accompanied by K C Tyagi, left early.
The attendance at Sonias Iftar was telling about the Congresss political isolation, both in Parliament and outside. Its claim for the Leader of the Opposition post in Lok Sabha has found no backing from parties outside the UPA. Parties like the AIADMK, Trinamool Congress and the BJD are not even willing to share the front bench with the Congress leadership.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sat separately with non-political guests, with the likes of former Chief Election Commission S Y Quraishi and Sharmila Tagore, despite Sonias prodding to join her table.
Party second-in-command Rahul Gandhi sat with diplomats, with Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and deputy leader Anand Sharma giving him company.
Senior Congress leaders said the size of the diplomatic core was below expectations. Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit and the Russian Ambassador was among those present.
Rahul, however, appeared to be in a jovial mood, cracking jokes with media persons while refusing to give the political byte on the Nitin Gadkari bugging row or the Leader of the Opposition controversy. When told the Gadkari has denied that his house was bugged, Rahul jokingly asked, Are they saying we did it