NEW DELHI: Rivals from the two ends of political spectrum, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi were seen shaking hands and exchanging civilities at Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar’s 75th birthday celebrations.
Mr Gandhi greeted the Prime Minister with a ‘Namaste’ before he was about to leave. The two followed it up with a handshake.
The programme had brought together the entire Indian political league on one stage — PM Modi was seen sharing dais with Congress President Sonia Gandhi, arch-rival Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav. Others included BJP patriarch LK Advani, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Left’s Sitaram Yechury.
Corporate czars were in attendance too, including industrialists Gautam Adani, Anil Ambani, Tata group head Cyrus Mistry, liquor baron Vijaya Mallya and Maureen Wadia.
“Sharad Rao is a bit like our farmers who can sense the weather conditions a bit in advance,” declared the Prime Minister. “If someone wants to know which way the wind is blowing, he should just sit with Sharad Rao.”
Speaking before the Prime Minister, the Congress too, spoke of Mr Pawar’s clout across the political spectrum. “In these days of information technology, Mr Pawar’s networking skills are formidable and these skills are much needed when politics get bitter as it often does.”
“Perhaps not many of you know that his father-in-law was a leg spinner and played 7 tests for India. I am sure it has had an impact on him,” added Mrs Gandhi amid audience’s laughter, looking straight at Mrs Pratibha Pawar, who responded with a thumbs up.
The spin was in evidence when Mr Pawar spoke. He urged the Parliament to function as lawmakers are meant to work for the people, but added that the government should work towards development with the principles of secularism and tolerance.
President Pranab Mukherjee released the English version of his memoir — On My Terms — that has a chapter on Mr Pawar’s walking out of the Congress in 1999 over Mrs Gandhi’s foreign origin issue. More than 15 years later, the past appeared forgotten.
Last year, Mr Pawar had announced he would not contest an election again. But his admirers say he isn’t done with public life. There is talk that he could be a fit candidate for the 2017 Presidential elections.
Perhaps that was why NCP’s Praful Patel, delivering the welcome address, said, “For a man like Sharad Pawar, this is just the beginning.”