Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van I-Day guest list cut to 90 peo­ple

Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - - Htspotligh­t - Saub­hadra Chat­terji let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com

spouses, no live food coun­ters, no free­dom fight­ers and no free in­ter­ac­tion with VIPs. When Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van hosts the At Home func­tion on the evening of Au­gust 15, these are among the re­stric­tions that will be in place in a new pro­to­col­wrapped cer­e­mony that is be­ing held against the back­drop of the Covid-19 pan­demic.

The plan un­der con­sid­er­a­tion in­volved keep­ing the guest list to a max­i­mum of 90 — down from the nor­mal gath­er­ing of 1,500 dig­ni­taries. And the In­de­pen­dence Day event will last barely an hour; it usu­ally lasts two-and-ahalf hours. “There will be min­i­mum cel­e­bra­tion for the sake of hold­ing the event. We have ap­plied a logic while se­lect­ing the lim­ited num­ber of guests, but as a large num­ber of dig­ni­taries can­not be called, the se­lec­tion might still look like ran­dom, ” ex­plained a Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van of­fi­cial who asked not to be named.

As a re­sult, min­is­ters of state are un­likely to be in­vited, and even all cab­i­net min­is­ters may not get a chance to en­joy Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van’s hos­pi­tal­ity on Au­gust 15. “Apart from the Prime Min­is­ter, the mem­bers of the cab­i­net com­mit­tee on se­cu­rity (de­fence, home, ex­ter­nal af­fairs and fi­nance) and a few se­nior cab­i­net min­is­ters will be in­vited. The list of min­is­ters may not go be­yond 10,” added the of­fi­cial.

Sim­i­larly, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the ju­di­ciary may be lim­ited to Chief Jus­tice of In­dia Sharad A Bobde, Delhi high court’s chief jus­tice DN Pa­tel and a few se­nior judges of the Supreme Court. In the past, all Supreme Court judges and many Delhi high court judges used to be in­vited.

The list of bu­reau­crats may also to be pruned with only the cab­i­net sec­re­tary and a few se­nior sec­re­taries be­ing in­vited. “Last year, at least 70 sec­re­taries with their spouses came for the event. This time no spouse will be in­vited,” said the of­fi­cial, adding that fewer than 10 key diplo­mats will be in­vited.

The cater­ing re­mains tricky. If live coun­ters are in­volved, it would mean a lot of staff in the Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van Con­ven­tion Cen­tre—the venue —in­creas­ing the risk of in­fec­tion.

“We are still dis­cussing how to serve food or if at all food should be served. Live food sta­tions are risky af­fairs, so there is talk of sim­ply plac­ing food pack­ets and wa­ter bot­tles at every seat for the guests,” said the of­fi­cial.

The Union home min­istry, re­spon­si­ble for the pro­gramme, plans to in­vite some doc­tors and nurses to stand in for their col­leagues lead­ing In­dia’s fight against Covid-19. Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial, they will be given special seats—close to the area for the VVIPS. A large area will be des­ig­nated for Pres­i­dent Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, for­mer pres­i­dents Pranab Mukher­jee and Prat­i­bha Patil, for­mer PMs Man­mo­han Singh and HD Deve Gowda. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pres­i­dent JP Nadda and Congress pres­i­dent So­nia Gandhi will also sit there, main­tain­ing strict so­cial dis­tanc­ing norms. Other guests will not be al­lowed to en­ter that area.

Free­dom fight­ers, an­other reg­u­lar fea­ture of the At Home func­tion, are un­likely to be called as they are too old to be ex­posed to the threat of the virus.

At the en­trance, guests will be greeted with dig­i­tal in­frared ther­mome­ters, sani­tis­ers, and even masks. If a guest’s mask looks in­ap­pro­pri­ate, he or she will be pro­vided with N 95 masks. “A se­nior min­is­ter who came to meet the Pres­i­dent re­cently had to change his mask,” said a sec­ond Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van of­fi­cial who asked not to be named.

Kovind’s sec­re­tariat is also brac­ing for the even­tu­al­ity where at least some in­vi­tees ex­press their in­abil­ity to at­tend due to Covid-re­lated is­sues.

The list for ‘At Home’ func­tion has been slashed from 1,500 guests.

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