The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rookies get that first-day-of-school feeling

New Delhi, June 1: There seems a quaint kinship between the inauguration of a new Lok Sabha and reopening of school after vacation — the same ripple of excitement and anxiety, of regrouping and taking count of lost and found anew, new monitors and minders, even new bags — all-leather, combination lock affairs ordered from a top luggage brand — and books.

And, like all first days in a new class, the many fleeting concessions to bonhomie, treasury and Opposition in heart-warming embrace, each aware it isn’t to last.

L.K. Advani — who skippered a studded front-bench comprising Rajnath Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi, Jaswant Singh and Sushma Swaraj and rose repeatedly to greet new members from the opposite benches — must quickly recalibrate his tactics as leader of Opposition, the electorate having roundly rejected his case that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was weak and ineffective.

Manmohan, who himself made a strong plea for insulating the Lok Sabha against disruption, must brace himself for continued attack. Even though he affords enhanced strength on his benches, even though he can be quietly pleased several among his pet bete noires have been denied entry to the new House.

The BJP lies depleted, the Left, which pinched and needled Manmohan harder, has been whittled to an all-time low. No Mohammed Salim, no Roop Chand Pal, no Hannan Mollah, no Tarit Topdar, net loss of brain and vocal brawn.

Basudeb Acharya and Gurudas Dasgupta looked pitilessly lost and forlorn, as riders of the new wave in Bengal turned up to take oath one after another — Saugata Roy, Dinesh Trivedi, Sultan Ahmed, Sisir Adhikary, C.M. Jatua. No style code laid down by Didi for this oath, though; unlike the Rashtrapati Bhavan swearing-in, there seemed no diktat on “dhuti-panjabi”, and most preferred English, although Bangla, like several other languages including Sanskrit, was an option.

Also available today were a slew of front row seats which veterans rushed to grab — Lalu Prasad, for instance, and Farooq Abdullah, who had taken upon himself to remind each member to sign up as MP after the oath and pleasantries were done.

Once the seats are formally allotted, though, both Lalu Prasad and Abdullah will have to leave their vantage perches, as will several in the BJP. Lalu Prasad, with only four MPs and no ministerial berth, must retreat into the back rows and Abdullah, as minister for relatively unfancied renewable energy, will get a place in the treasury menagerie.

Young House? You’d have wondered if you were focused on prime seats in the House; they were all taken by old and known faces — besides Lalu Prasad and Abdullah, Bhajan Lal from Haryana, who could barely bring himself to spell out the oath, Kailash Joshi, the revived BJP warhorse from Madhya Pradesh, Jai Narain Nishad, who defeated the even older George Fernandes in Muzaffarpur.

The youngsters lay all scattered here and there on the fringes. Mausam Noor fumbled aimlessly for a while with her purse and hair in the unallotted middle rows before she spotted Agatha Sangma on the other end and joined her. R.P.N. Singh didn’t venture into the treasury even though he is minister, politely letting Congress elders have their two-minutes in prime seats. Seated in the privileged galleries just above him was the solitary Ramdas Athawale, Dalit firebrand from Maharashtra, who may be forgiven for thinking he would have been a minister this time had he not lost.

Equally desolate was another man who retraced his steps to the back benches after long years today — RJD leader and the man who brought NREGA, the UPA’s flagship programme, to fruition, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh.

But it wasn’t as if the back benches were a thing to ignore; far from it. Rahul Gandhi was there, at the far back on a bench to the wall. And he didn’t merely have the young clustered around him — along with Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada and Sachin Pilot, there was the surprise of S.M Krishna too.

Sister Priyanka, who anchored the campaign that got Rahul that seat, was there for a while too — in the VIP galleries with husband Robert. Bet on her returning tomorrow for that’s when Rahul is likely to take oath in the new House. The morphing is not done yet; the 14 th Lok Sabha is history but the 15 th is in extended birth-pang, which will course through most of tomorrow before the initiation rites are over and the House is ready to make history of its own by acquiring its first woman Speaker in Meira Kumar on Wednesday. Ready, class, Madam’s about to arrive.

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