First day, First Show: House full!


New Delhi : First Day, First Show. And it was predictably full House, as India’s parliament, meeting for the first time after the national election, came alive with the rainbow colours of the country amid a babel of tongues that speak for this polyglot nation.

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The young and the old, the rulers and the defeated, comrades-in-arms and arch-rivals who don’t see eye to eye – most of the 543 MPs of the 15th Lok Sabha gathered for that sacred oath of public duty that marks their calling as law-makers.

Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president looked winsome in a green sari matched with a maroon blouse, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor sporting a tricolour angavastaram and a “veshti” brought in a whiff of his home state Kerala while six Telugum Desam MPs wore blazing yellow shirts and white trousers, their party colour.

Takam Sanjay, Arunchal Congress MP, stood out for his eye-catching bird-like headgear. A smiling Lalu Prasad, dressed in starched white kurta-pyjama, almost touched his headgear as Sanjay passed by after taking the oath.

Underlining the linguistic mosaic of the country, parliamentarians took oath in the languages they were comfortable with. Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who is the Congress MP from Sivaganga, took oath in Tamil, while B.K. Handique, also of the Congress, spoke in Assamese. Dayanidhi Maran, A. Raja and M.K. Azhagiri, all of the DMK, took oath in Tamil. Mallikarjun Kharge did so in Kannada and Pawan Kumar Bansal in Punjabi. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Sumitra Mahajan was the lone person to take oath in the ancient Sanskrit language.

It was an almost carnival-like atmosphere as MPs, dressed eclectically, trooped in twos and threes into the Lok Sabha on the first day. The central hall of parliament resonated with laughter, noisy greetings and backslapping before the protracted ceremony of swearing in of MPs began.

Some of them, especially a gaggle of rich MPs from Andhra Pradesh, were driven in their souped up SUVs as they were dropped off in the portico. Relatives and friends of both Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh MPs also arrived in droves, flooding the visitors’ gallery.

Sporting a steel grey Nehru jacket and white kurta-pyjama, cricketer-turned-MP Mohammad Azharuddin tried his best to look like a politician.

A beaming Surpiya Sule, daughter of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, was seen introducing the NCP MPs to Sushma Swaraj of the BJP. The two of them were in a clinch for several minutes.

A chastened Lalu Prasad, who was a permanent member on the treasury benches for five years, arrived mid-way through the swearing-in ceremony and took his seat next to Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The mood was one of celebration and thanksgiving in the treasury benches as Congress MPs savoured the triumph of an unexpected electoral verdict that returned the party to victory with 206 MPs.

The BJP camp, on the other hand, looked sombre with party chief L.K. Advani sitting quiely with his colleagues Murli Manohar Joshi, Jaswant Singh and Susham Swaraj. Within an hour of the swearing-in, many had left the Opposition benches.

Almost every Congress MP bowed before and greeted ‘Madam’ Sonia Gandhi, the fountainhead of power in the grand old party. Sonia sat in the first row, flanked by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to her left, and Pranab Mukherjee to her right.

Also sharing the front row in the treasury benches were Home Minister P. Chdambaram and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. A beaming Sonia smiled benignly, folding her hands in namaste and shaking hands with her party colleagues.

Sonia gently thumped her desk from time to time as her party MPs crossed on their way to taking the oath. She thumped extra hard as the 28-year-old Agatha Sangma, the youngest minister in the cabinet, and the 32-year-old Sachin Pilot, Minister of State for IT and Communications, came to take oath.

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, the man widely seen as a future prime minister and a key architect of the Congress victory, chose to sit in the backbench.

He was closeted with his backroom buddies, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Arun Yadav and Jitin Prasada, part of the youth brigade he has promoted in dynasty-bound Congress politics. External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna was seen engaged in animated chatter with Rahul Gandhi for what seemed like hours.

Priyanka Gandhi, along with husband Robert Vadra, shone resplendent in the visitor’s gallery. Dressed in a bright green sari, she watched the proceedings for just 30 minutes and left after her mother took the oath.

As she made a quiet exit, papparrazi and reporters literally ran after her. But she refused to take any questions: “Don’t bother chasing me,” she said curtly.

Meira Kumar, the Congress party’s nominee for the speaker’s post, was also a centre of attraction as she greeted Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi in her melodious Hindi. Opposition members also shared some lighter moments with her.