It was the first day of the 16th Lok Sabha. The business was short because of the tragic death of Union rural development minister Gopinath Munde. There was a tinge of sadness in the atmosphere.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi came into the House, a first for him, accompanied by Parliamentary affairs minister M. Venkaiah Naidu. The BJP members all stood up and applauded as he walked down. Modi walked around the semi-circular front rows, first greeting Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mualayam Singh Yadav, then members of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Biju Janata Dal (BJD). It was then that Congress president Sonia Gandhi walked into the House, and Modi greeted her with folded hands. Sonia reciprocated. It lasted a second or two and then Sonia moved on and then Naidu greeting her. She then moved towards her seat.
The May 16 election verdict has altered the positions of parties and leaders. With 282 members, the BJP now occupies the seats to the right hand side of the Speaker and the Congress members on the left with its 44 members occupying barely three rows, though Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and former Union minister of state for human resources development Shashi Tharoor were seen sitting in the second last row.
The first row now has Modi in the first seat, and next to him sits party patriarch LKAdvani. The seat is usually occupied by the senior most cabinet colleague of the prime minister. The third in the front row on Wednesday was party president and Union home minister Rajnath Singh, with minister for external affairs Sushma Swaraj occupying the seat next to him. Naidu is seated next to Swaraj and the remaining two seats have been taken by Lok Janshakti Party (LNJP) leader Ram Vilas Paswan, also a Union minister, and BJP senior leader Murli Manohar Joshi.
In the Opposition's first row, on the other side, sits Congress leader in the House Mallikarjun Kharge. The first seat is reserved for the deputy speaker. Kharge left the leader's seat vacant for Sonia Gandhi, but Sonia insisted that he sit in the second seat; in the last term that seat was occupied by Sushma Swaraj, then leader of Opposition. Sonia sat in what used to be Advani's spot. The other person in the first row on the Congress side is Veerappa Moily. After he completes his duties as a pro tem speaker in the next two days, Kamal Nath will be the other senior front bencher for the party along with Sonia.
The BJP now occupies a little more than half the House, with its 282 members. The AIADMK, the BJP and the TMC are in the penumbra because it is most likely that they will support and oppose the BJP-led NDA government on issues. Congress will be the main opposition party along with its ally, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). NCP's Supriya Sule is now occupying a seat in the back row behind the Congress.
Kamal Nath conducted the House's brief proceedings without much ado. He read out a condolence resolution at the passing away of Munde. The House stood up and observed two-minute silence as a mark of respect to the deceased minister. Lok Sabha will meet on Thursday morning, and the swearing-in of members will begin, starting with prime minister Modi.