New Delhi: While Amit Shah remained missing in Gujarat, where the CBI wants to question him for his alleged complicity in the murder of a Muslim man by senior police officers, the BJP's senior-most leaders held a press conference in Delhi to state they would not attend a lunch at the Prime Minister's home. "The atmosphere would be too bitter," said Sushma Swaraj, confirming that Nitin Gadkari, LK Advani, Arun Jaitley and she were boycotting the meal. (Watch: 'Atmosphere too bitter' to lunch with PM, says BJP)
The conversation at the lunch table, had the BJP chosen to attend, may have challenged the host's famous diplomatic skills. In the last 48 hours, the CBI has moved with high velocity in Ahmedabad, filing a 30,000 page chargesheet against Shah, a minister and close aide of BJP Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
On Thursday, Shah was served a notice to meet the CBI by 1 pm. But he has not been an easy man to pin down this week. He has not been seen at his office, and skipped a cabinet meeting. When he was a no-show on Thursday afternoon, the CBI issued a second summon, giving him a deadline of 1 pm on Friday. Shah surfaced only in the form of a statement faxed to the press - he declared his innocence, and said that by giving him little or no time to respond to its notice, the CBI was acting "with malice." (Watch: Modi minister won't meet CBI today, asks for more time)
In Delhi, his party's tallest leaders said at their united press conference that the government was clearly using the CBI to target its political opponents. (Watch: Govt shamelessly misusing CBI, says Jaitley | Congress vs BJP on PM's lunch)
The Congress responded at its own press conference in the evening. The BJP was attacked both for its poor manners in skipping lunch, and in suggesting that the Congress is misusing the CBI to settle political scores. "A party that calls itself a responsible Opposition leader is fielding senior leaders to influence and subvert an ongoing Supreme Court-initiated investigation. It is indefensible and unheard of. BJP is scaling new heights of improper conduct. First, it was the Gujarat Home Minister running scared....not available, avoiding interrogation. Now perhaps the Gujarat Home Minister's mentor is equally scared and appears to have pressurized senior BJP leaders to prevent an ongoing investigation. It is unprecedented that a press conference be held on such an issue," pronounced Abhishek Manu Singhvi, spokesperson for the Congress. (Watch: Height of improper conduct: AM Singhvi | (Read: BJP's boycott of PM's lunch unfortunate: Congress)
The PM's lunch, at his residence, he stressed was to discuss the agenda for the next Parliament session which begins soon.
The BJP says it decided on Thursday to decline the PM's invite for lunch. On Friday morning, senior leader LK Advani called Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
By Friday evening, the mood in the BJP was sombre. Amit Shah was formally charged with murder at 6 pm, the party worries that the CBI is getting uncomfortably close to one of its biggest strengths, the Gujarat Chief Minister.
There's also the fact that the Congress will now have the upper hand in the monsoon session of Parliament which begins shortly. Till the Shah fiasco, the BJP had plenty of issues to target the government with - price rise, the aggressive stand taken by Pakistan after the talks with India last week. On these issues, the BJP would have been joined by other major opposition parties. But once again, the stain of communalism means that the BJP will find itself eating alone.