New Delhi, May 15: A rose with a shy smile from son Rahul to mother Sonia Gandhi was a private moment in a family, an island of intimacy floating on raucous waves of back-thumping Congress members.
It was also a very public moment for India’s oldest party — Nehru to Indira, Indira to Rajiv, though not quite Rajiv to Sonia. Here was another from the family, a little diffident, definitely ill-at-ease with all the attention a sycophantic party was showering on him, standing in queue with all the others to congratulate his mother, whose smiling visage lit up at his sight — together, like any mother and son, caught in a minute of happiness.
But, most important, standing by.
It was that single rose wrapped in cellophane which carried that extra whiff of scent in the stockpile of colossal bouquets and gigantic garlands gathering around the 58-year-old Sonia Gandhi, turned out in an off-white sari, a colour she has been favouring in public from the day of the election results.
If there’s a significance in the selection, it’s not quite clear yet.
She cannot be cramped for choice. Her admirers brought gifts of saris, too.
Rahul sat in the front row in the veteran company of Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, R.K. Dhawan, Jagdish Tytler and Bhajan Lal as the Congress Parliamentary Party elected Sonia Gandhi its leader.
Mukherjee, with the sobering experience of having indulged the ambition of leading the party after Indira Gandhi’s assassination behind him and basking in the satisfaction of having won an election for the first time, proposed Sonia’s name.
“I take this opportunity to congratulate all of you as the oldest member of the Upper House and newest member of the Lower House,” he said in an attempt to be smart and witty.
Smartness — of the youthful kind — was much in evidence in the dizzying swirl of celebrating members. Govinda, flashing the frayed-by-overuse victory sign and a salute for the cameras, blew a kiss before putting himself in circulation in the hall.
The young smiled at one another, chatted each other up. And the likes of Sandip Dikshit and Sachin Pilot sought out the company of one of their own, Rahul. Often described as a party of geriatrics, the Congress glowed in the rawness of their age and freshness of face.
Rajiv Gandhi had once been surrounded by youth and its grand plans. And all of that had come to nothing. What the Congress will do with its young of today or its young will do with it, if given an opportunity, is too early to tell.
Experience does not give much hope. There was a lot of experience — of age and administration — around and the young were well-mannered enough to defer to its weight.
Thirty-four-year-old Rahul stood up every time senior leaders like Arjun Singh, Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh and Karan Singh greeted him on his victory from Amethi.
Congress general secretary Oscar Fernandes opened the ceremony, describing it as a momentous occasion. Manomhan Singh, presiding, said: “This is truly a historic occasion.”
He asked the members if there was any proposal other than Mukherjee’s for leadership. “No, no,” shouted the members, Rahul joining in.
“I stand here today, in the space once occupied by my greatest teachers. Panditji, Indiraji and Rajivji. Their lives have guided me throughout my journey,” Sonia Gandhi said.
“I would like to remember them today, I would like to honour them today.”
In his vote of thanks, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said: “You sail the ship. We pledge before you, be it a sunny morning or a stormy night, we shall stand by you.”
At such moments, it may not be a bad idea to have a family member standing by, too.