People watch as Zardari visits Ajmer shrine on Sunday. (AFP)
New Delhi, April 8: Last year, many Pakistanis felt their 34-year-old foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, was making the wrong sort of headlines in India when she caught attention with her expensive bags and jewellery, stylish shades and frequent change of designer clothes.
Today, a younger Pakistani politician on his first trip to India appeared to win over many, including hard-bitten South Block officials, with his unassuming yet confident manner.
Pakistan People’s Party chief Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, 24, stepped off his plane in a black Pathani suit and white salwar, and never changed them through a hot day in Delhi and Ajmer. He, however, put on a pink turban and draped an embroidered scarf round his neck while visiting the Ajmer dargah.
“AOA (Allah Akbar) India Peace be with you. I have just landed in Delhi. 1st ever visit,” Bilawal tweeted at 12.21pm, minutes after touchdown. His presence on Twitter and Facebook made some on social networking sites wonder why Rahul Gandhi didn’t follow suit.
At the lunch hosted by Manmohan Singh, Bilawal interacted at length with Indian leaders, particularly Rahul, whom he invited to Pakistan. Rahul accepted the offer, sources said. “Prez I enjoyed Lunch with Rahul Gandhi and PM Singh. lovely meal. much to learn from each other,” Bilawal wrote on his Twitter handle @BBhuttoZardari.
His poise reminded old-timers of his late mother Benazir Bhutto’s visit to India as a teenager in July 1972. She had accompanied father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, then Pakistan Prime Minister, on his trip to sign the Simla Pact.
Bilawal reminded his Twitter followers of that history: “SMBB (Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto) also accompanied SZAB (Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) to India.”
Later in the day, he accompanied his father to the Ajmer dargah, carrying the chadar that Zardari was to offer. Considering his youth, the younger khadims (priests) were asked to escort Bilawal inside the shrine.
“We gifted him a photo of his mother, taken when she visited the dargah in 2005,” said Zeeshan, 23, son of the Bhuttos’ family khadim Iqbal Kaptan Chishti.
“We also showed him the visitors’ book where Benazir had written a message during one of her visits. He was so happy to see his mother’s handwriting.”
Soon, Bilawal posted a photo of the page on Twitter. “Just visited ajmer. So spiritual and peaceful,” he tweeted. “Yahan pe aakar kafi sukoon mila hai (I’ve found great solace in coming here),” he told a young priest at the shrine.
Some of the tweets from Pakistan, however, opposed Zardari’s donation of $1 million to the dargah. “Donation of $1million from personal money or from my money,” asked @HamidMirGEO.
“Our people are starving and ur dad is giving charity of million usd in India. Has he gone nuts,” posted Muhammad Karim.
A few made uncharitable remarks about how Rahul and Bilawal represented dynastic politics or how Rahul had ceased to be a youth leader. “Bilawal says, “uncle, please pass the achaar.” Silence ensues as he was talking to Rahul,” tweeted FakingNews.
Many in Kashmir, including chief minister Omar Abdullah, were left disappointed after having read reports that the Kashmiri dish, gushtaba, would be served at 7 Race Course Road.
“Dosas served with gushtabas. I guess that’s our subtle message about Kashmir to Kanyakumari...” Omar had tweeted initially. But he soon discovered that “Kashmir is off the menu today; no gushtabas :-).”