THE VENUE WAS AT THE ASHOKA HOTEL in New Delhi, and the occasion a rare luncheon for journalists hosted by Congress president Sonia Gandhi after a motley alliance led by her party secured its second consecutive victory in the 2009 elections to the Lok Sabha. The Italian-born Congress chief, who had just stunned the nation yet again when she rejected the coveted post of prime minister, was to visit each of nearly 30 tables where journalists of all hues were sitting. It was unusual for the notoriously inaccessible leader to spend this much time with representatives of the media; they must have been pinching themselves in disbelief.
Journalists in Delhi, known for arriving very late or far too early for events, were all on time for this rare to-do. When senior leaders and ministers started to arrive, some journalists located their leader of choice and quickly walked down to greet them as they ambled in. There was no sign of the Congress chief.
But suddenly there was a commotion—everyone got up from their seats as Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi’s political adviser, walked into the room. It was, they must have assumed, an indicator that Mrs Gandhi would be just a few steps behind. But even after confirming otherwise, few wanted to miss the opportunity to say hello to Patel, who is even less publicly visible and accessible than his boss. He reciprocated the advances, but while doing so his eyes roved through the hall to look over the arrangements.