NEW DELHI, Jan 26 (IANS): Namaste India. Elegantly attired in a cream skirt and jacket, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, accompanied by President Pratibha Patil, moved around the sun-dappled lawns of Rashtrapati Bhavan, hands folded, greeting hundreds of invited guests on India's 63rd Republic Day.
It was also a special day for the 77-year-old Patil as she hosted what could well be her last At Home reception for around 1,000 carefully chosen guests at the elegantly manicured Mughal Gardens.
After the national anthem was played, Patil moved around with Shinawatra, chief guest at India's Republic Day reception, exchanging greetings with her guests.
The contrast in their profiles was too obvious not to notice: the 44-year-old Shinawatra is more than three decades junior to Patil, who became India's first woman president in 2007.
Incidentally, Shinawatra, known for here elegant sense of style and couture, is the first woman head of government to be invited as guest of honour at India's Republic Day parade in the last five decades. Queen Elizabeth II came to India in 1961 as the chief guest.
The bright sunny weather ensured an unusually large turnout of guests that included diplomats, senior officials, artists, businesspersons and journalists.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur, United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Vice President Hamid Ansari were among those who were seated under a makeshift marquee erected on the lawns with the president.
The guests milled around the sprawling ground, many nibbling on the samosas, idlis, patties and fish fingers, what has come to be known as the staple At Home menu.
Unlike earlier At Home receptions, there were only a handful of cabinet ministers present. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar were among the senior ministers present at the function.
Patil's five-year presidential term ends July 24, 2012. Though there is no established rule barring a second term, the only president to have got one is Rajendra Prasad who was in the post from Jan 26, 1950, to May 13, 1962.
The guessing game on who would succeed Patil was the pet topic of conversation at this sun-lit At Home reception.