After Pranab, Mamata grabs eyeballs at central hall


New Delhi : It was Pranab Mukherjee’s day of course, but if there was any other person to grab attention at the swearing in ceremony in parliament’s central hall it was West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

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The mercurial Trinamool Congress chief had initially opposed Mukherjee’s candidature for the nation’s highest office, but extended her support to him just 24 hours before the voting on July 19.

Banerjee walked up to Home Minister P. Chidambaram to greet him. She also interacted with Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad. That’s when Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, seated in the front row, got up and moved towards the duo to chat with her.

Mulayam Yadav had, along with Banerjee, initially proposed that former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former speaker Somnath Chatterjee or Prime Minister Manmohan Singh be made president. However, he later ditched the Trinamool chief to go with the UPA nominee Pranab.


Trinamool core committee

Banerjee found company soon after she sat down in the last row. She was joined by party colleague and Railway Minister Mukul Roy.

That was signal enough for several other Trinamool MPs, who were in the central hall, to attend the function. They all trooped to the last row one after the other and soon a core committee meeting of sorts ensured.

The Trinamool lot stuck together throughout the ceremony.

After the event ended and Mukherjee walked out of the central hall, Banerjee quickly moved towards him and greeted him with folded hands. The new president returned her greeting.


Pawar’s seating

If it has any political significance, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar was seated three places away from Manmohan Singh on the first row that held cabinet ministers. Upset with the Congress, Pawar has been missing from cabinet meetings and UPA gatherings in recent weeks.

Manmohan Singh was on the aisle seat; next to him was former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and then Defence Minister A.K. Antony. Pawar was sandwiched between Antony and Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

So, is it now ‘semi-official’ that Antony will henceforth be considered second man in the government after the prime minister?


BJP chief ministers missing

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s leadership, including L.K. Advani, Nitin Gadkari, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad, were seen at the ceremony. But conspicuous by their absence were the chief ministers of BJP-ruled states.

However, BJP’s allies — Janata Dal-United and Shiromani Akali Dal — had their chief ministers in attendance: Bihar’s Nitish Kumar and Punjab’s Parkash Singh Badal.

Also missing were Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, both of whom supported former speaker Purno Sangma’s candidature against Mukherjee.


First lady

The country’s first lady Surva Mukherjee is unwell and came in a wheelchair. She was in the first row along with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s wife Gursharan Kaur and outgoing president Pratibha Patil’s spouse Devisingh Ransingh Shekhawat.

After Mukherjee left the central hall, political leaders lined up to greet his spouse. The first to greet her was Sonia Gandhi.

She was later escorted to Rastrapati Bhavan by one of her family members and the presidential staff members.