New Delhi, Jun 10: She came, she chatted up journalists, spread her charm, had a spartan lunch topped with seasonal fruits, said her goodbyes and left with the media relishing each word she uttered. It was a happy day for Congress president Sonia Gandhi as she hosted a 'thanksgiving lunch' for the media after her party posted a stunning electoral win last month.
In a rare gesture that warmed the hearts of over 200 journalists at the conference hall of Ashoka Hotel, a beaming Gandhi, in a maroon sari, went around each table and spent a couple of minutes conversing with them.
Introductions were made and visiting cards given. The more ambitious lot tried to draw her in a conversation and tried to pin her down on tricky issues like women's reservations bill and political developments in Maharashtra.
But all they got was general answers, showing Sonia at her diplomatic best. If some of them managed to get something confidential, that was only for their ears as journalists were given strict instructions to just enjoy the lunch and pretend as though they have not heard anything inside that hall.
Much before Sonia Gandhi came, Congress general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi issued a one-line whip asking journalists that this afternoon was only for "jal-tarang and man-tarang" (music and camaraderie).
A couple of musicians, dressed in kurta-pyjama, played tabla and light Indian classical music throughout the nearly two-hour sit-in lunch.
Gandhi also charmed with her simplicity and courtesy. There was not a trace of arrogance in her manners; instead there was an air of quiet confidence about her.
At one table, when a young woman journalist got up to vacate her chair for her, Sonia graciously looked around for another chair and told her, 'aap biathiye."
After doing the rounds of nearly 30 tables seating six-eight journalists each, the centre table was reserved for Sonia Gandhi and Congress leaders. Tourism Minister Kumari Selja and Congress functionaries Shakeel Ahamad, Motilal Vohra, Mohsina Kidwai and B.K. Hariprasad shared the table with her.
The lunch was reminiscent of old days of Congress glory when the grand old party reigned supreme without having to bother with the fractious coalition politics.
Senior ministers, inducing Prithviraj Chavan, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office who holds independent charge of several ministries and Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni were also seen interacting with journalists.
Although Gandhi herself preferred simple food, journalists were treated to an eclectic array of appettising dishes from just about every corner of India representing the multi-cultural diversity of the country.
Besides north Indian and south Indian fare, Bengali delicacies like macchi jhol were also on offer.
There was also a counter for Italian food that included an array of pastas and salad.
But this time round, there were no sniggers or back-handed jokes. The Italian-born Sonia Gandhi has morphed into the most powerful woman in the country, running a coalition for a second consecutive term. And it was clear to everyone present.