New Delhi, Oct. 6: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee hosted a lunch for President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam on the eve of his departure for a week-long visit to Cyprus, Denmark and the UK, and in yet another departure from protocol, the President drove to Vajpayee’s residence to attend the lunch.
“It was an informal lunch hosted by the Prime Minister, the first after Kalam became President,” PMO sources said, insisting that there was nothing unusual about the lunch.
Former President R. Venkataraman, Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, finance minister Jaswant Singh, external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah were among the invitees.
Former President K.R. Narayanan and several former Prime Ministers, who were also invited to the informal lunch, could not attend due to prior engagements.
Sources said no politics was discussed. “The atmosphere was light with the leaders cracking a few jokes.” South Indian food was served bearing in mind the President’s tastes.
They wondered why former President K.R. Narayanan did not attend the lunch even though he was in town.
“If the Prime Minister extends an invitation, the President accepts it, it’s informal. Sometimes the President visits the Prime Minister’s house, especially during birthdays,” Mahajan said, making light of the function. If the President had not come, they would had to send him a lunch packet, he added in a lighter vein.
Kalam has departed from protocol on several occasions in the past. He had directed that no dress code be observed for the “at home” function at Rashtrapati Bhavan on August 15.
He also made news for walking barefoot into Rajghat, leaving his shoes behind in the car. On earlier occasions, an attendant used to remove the shoes from the President’s feet.
Kalam also breaks free of the security cordon and sits with children and chats with Rashtrapati Bhavan guards.