New Delhi, Aug 15:
Rain was no deterrent to the At Home reception hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee on the occasion of Independence Day on Saturday, with the around 2,000 invited guests being accommodated inside the palatial Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The grand Ashoka Hall, with its painted ceiling and wooden floor, and the adjacent Dining Hall, with paintings of past presidents on the walls, were used to accommodate the guests, who included ministers, foreign envoys, diplomats, top officials and eminent personalities.
As the rain poured continuously, Rashtrapati Bhavan staff attired in raincoats, helped arriving guests with umbrellas.
Rashtrapati Bhavan has 1,500 umbrellas to be used for such rain emergencies, said a staffer.
The lavish arrangements in the Mughal Gardens for the event was a washout.
The flower arrangements, including the flower rangoli along the corners of the red sandstone pathway, the umbrella tents for the VIPs and for the food courts, were all hit by rain.
The chairs were brought indoors.
Just after 6 p.m., President Mukherjee, attired in a cream bandhgala walked down the two halls to greet guests with a ‘namaste’, after which he went to the sofa placed at one end of the Ashoka Hall.
Vice President Hamid Ansari too greeted the guests.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who wore a light cream-coloured, short-sleeved kurta and churidar, also walked in greeting the guests with a namaste.
But unlike last year, there was no mobbing of the prime minister by enthusiastic guests, maybe because he was whisked away too fast by his security staff.
Joining the president, vice president and prime minister on the sofa were Home Minister Rajnath Singh, former prime minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur and Congress president Sonia Gandhi among others. Gandhi looked elegant in a light cream sari.
Mingling among the guests in the Ashoka Hall were External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who was surrounded by a bevy of women journalists and also foreign diplomats, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju and also Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was also there.
Many foreign envoys were present, including Richard Verma of the US and Nadir Patel of Canada — both of Indian origin.
After the customary snacks, comprising sandwiches and savories, and tea and coffee were served, the president departed after the national anthem was played.
Though all the guests were special invitees, the security personnel of Rashtrapati Bhavan shut the door dividing Ashoka Hall, where the diplomats, ministers and other dignitaries were present, from the adjacent Banquet Hall, apparently to prevent other guests there from crowding the hall.
When the event is held in the Mughal Gardens, guests are able to mingle easily.