New Delhi: An air of expectation and anticipation pervaded the Central Hall of parliament as President Pranab Mukherjee listed out the policies of the new government in his speech to the joint session of both houses, with veteran members, including former prime minister Manmohan Singh, and the over 300 new MPs listening in rapt attention.
The Central Hall, with a large section comprising ruling National Demcratic Alliance (NDA) MPs, broke into instant applause whenever the president read out key catch phrases of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governance scheme — “Mantra of 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 his Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and former prime minister Manmohan Singh. Congress president 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 Gandhi and Advani conversed intently for several minutes before the president began his 55-minute speech.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was also present. He took a seat in the middle benches and struck up a 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.
Others in the front row included External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
Before the president arrived, members cutting across party lines warmly greeted Manmohan Singh. Officials said it was his first visit to parliament since he resigned as prime minister last month.
A spirit of bonhomie was evident as members greeted one another with handshakes, pats and embraces.
Members started arriving at the Central Hall much before the scheduled time of 11 a.m. for the president’s address.
The president arrived in the traditional procession that was led by Vice President Hamid Ansari, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and included Prime Minister 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, who is set to be Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge, who is the Congress leader in the Lok Sabha, sat together in the second row.
After the president’s address, many members came forward to greet Manmohan Singh. Among them were Shiromani Akali Dal MP and Food Processing Industries Minister Harsimrat Kaur. Advani and Sonia Gandhi also greeted Manmohan Singh.
The Central Hall was packed to capacity. While some members sat on the chairs at the back, a few apparently could not get a seat.