By Ranjana Narayan
New Delhi, Sep 30 (IANS) Rashtrapati Bhavan may be used to hosting lavish banquets for visiting dignitaries, but when an unprecedented 50-plus heads of state and government from Africa all come together to meet President Pranab Mukherjee next month, it could get a little overwhelming.
Preparations are afoot on the protocol to be followed when the over 50 leaders come for the dinner banquet to be hosted by Mukherjee on October 29.
Rashtrapati Bhavan has never entertained so many foreign dignitaries at one go. But “we are prepared and ready with every courtesy and care for our guests”, said an aide at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential mansion.
There was a small preparatory run in the form of entertaining the leaders of 14 Pacific Island nations who were in India to attend the second Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) Summit in August.
“Yes, we’ve never entertained so many foreign dignitaries at one go. But we are prepared with every necessary protocol and courtesy to be accorded to our foreign guests from Africa,” Gaitri Kumar, the president’s social secretary, told IANS.
According to Kumar, who was earlier joint secretary in the Americas division of the external affairs ministry, entertaining the 14 Pacific Island leaders was like a practice run for the upcoming mega banquet.
Another time that Rashtrapati Bhavan entertained many foreign dignitaries at one go was during the Asean-India Commemorative Summit in December 2012. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has 10 members.
How would Rashtrapati Bhavan cope with so many guests arriving at the same time?
“We are paying utmost attention and care of every minute detail of protocol. Everything will go off smoothly and very well,” Kumar said.
Considering that every dignitary, on arriving with spouse and two-three accompanying officials, would make their introductions to Mukherjee and make polite talk, every such interaction is estimated to last at least 2-3 minutes.
Scaling up such 2-3 minute interactions by over 50 times means that Mukherjee, 79, would be standing for a minimum of two hours continuously as he welcomes the guests when they come in a stream.
“President Mukherjee is fitter than most people and is game for anything. Nothing is a deterrent to him,” Kumar said.
With just a month to go, Rashtrapati Bhavan is thinking up the menu for the dinner, which is likely to be Indian.
The guests would be welcomed into the grand Ashoka Hall which has a frescoed ceiling. It was a ballroom during the colonial times and has a wooden flooring.
The Third India-Africa Forum Summit is being held in the capital from October 26-29.
With 54 African Union leaders, plus AU commissioner Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, and their entourages in the capital, it is set to be the largest gathering of foreign leaders in India since the Non-Aligned Summit in New Delhi in 1983 and the Commonwealth Summit the same year.
(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at [email protected])