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Big guns at 'small' dinner

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 5.11.10
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New Delhi, Nov. 4: Aamir Khan, A.R. Rahman, Viswanathan Anand, Javed Akhtar and his wife Shabana Azmi will be among the prominent guests at Manmohan Singh’s “very private” dinner for Barack Obama this Sunday.

The dinner at the Prime Minister’s 7 Race Course residence was originally planned at Panchvati Hall, within the complex, but was shifted to the sprawling lawns after the first “small” group of guests grew to nearly 80 invitees. When George W. Bush was in India in 2006, Singh had hosted a luncheon at the Taj Palace because the guest list had run up to over 300. But in hindsight, the assessment is that it became a “jamboree”.

Sources said the event managers — Singh’s close aides and his media adviser — this time had wanted the choice of guests to be eclectic, low on the glamour quotient and to reflect the UPA’s “vision” of economic growth with social inclusion.

This is why, perhaps, Aamir got their attention rather than Shah Rukh Khan, a must in the exclusive dos hosted by the Vajpayee government. Among the four Khans — Aamir, Shah Rukh, Salman and Saif —the perception is that Aamir stands out for projecting a “social conscience”.

Singh, not exactly a movie buff, made an exception for the Aamir-produced Peepli Live, a parody on the voyeuristic character of TV when it looks into the issues of rural India. The actor’s Taare Zameen Par, on the travails of a dyslexic child, was also said to have moved Singh.

Rahman is a hot favourite with the UPA, too, despite the little splodge on his CV over the CWG number he composed. He was recently conferred the Indira Gandhi award for national integration.

Lyricist and poet Akhtar was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the UPA. His wife Shabana was among the first Bollywood stars to step out of Mumbai’s upscale Juhu-Pali Hill enclaves to the slums near Colaba in the early 1980s. The couple have been on such guest lists since Vajpayee’s time.

The BJP, perceived as “anti-Muslim”, was keen to change the notion and show liberal Muslims were not antithetical to it.

The sources insisted the number of politicians at the Obama event would be “small” but didn’t put a number on it. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul will be there, as will BJP leaders L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.

The jury is still out on whether Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah will be at the high table. Sources said that while the Prime Minister wanted Obama to meet the young Abdullah, there were misgivings about how the other chief ministers might react, especially after criticism over his handling of the unrest in the state. “Farooq Abdullah (Omar’s father) might be called instead,” a source said.

Pranab Mukherjee, A.K. Antony, S.M. Krishna and P. Chidambaram — part of the cabinet committee on security — have been called along with Prithviraj Chavan, the minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office.