Bonhomie pervaded in parliament Monday as Prime Minister Narendra Modi held Rahul Gandhi’s hand in an expression of warmth and Congress president Sonia Gandhi conversed intently with L.K. Advani.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh was among those present in the packed central hall to listen to President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to the members of the two houses.
The exchange of greetings between Modi and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi took place while the prime minister was walking in the traditional procession along with Mukherjee.
As Modi neared Rahul, who was in the middle rows on a seat next to the aisle, he held the Congress leader’s hand. Modi’s gesture evoked a smile from Rahul.
It is perhaps the first occasion when Modi exchanged greetings and held Rahul’s hand after the Lok Sabha election. Modi and Rahul had exchanged barbs during the general elections with the Bharatiya Janata Party leader particularly hard-hitting the Congress vice president, often describing him “shehzada” (prince).
Rahul also struck up conversation with former union minister Jairam Ramesh who was seated a seat away from him. As the President spoke, Ramesh could be seen taking down notes.
The central hall, with a large section comprising ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) MPs, broke into instant applause whenever the President read out key catch phrases of Modi’s governance scheme — “minimum government, maximum governance”, returning the Kashmiri Pandits to the valley, and FDI in defence production.
Modi was seated in the front row along with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and former prime minister Manmohan Singh. Sonia Gandhi was seated in the adjacent front row along with veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda.
Sonia and Advani conversed intently for several minutes before the President began his 55-minute speech.
Others in the front row included External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
Before the President arrived, members like Shiromani Akali Dal MP and Food Processing Industries Minister Harsimrat Kaur, Advani and Sonia greeted Manmohan Singh. Officials said it was his first visit to parliament after resigning as prime minister.
Members also greeted one another with handshakes, pats and embraces.
The President arrived in the traditional procession that was led by Vice President Hamid Ansari, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and included Modi and Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu.
Members stood up as the procession entered the high-domed edifice.
Many members greeted former union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, set to be Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress leader in the Lok Sabha, sat together in the second row.
The central hall was packed to capacity. While some members sat on chairs at the back, a few apparently could not get a seat.