Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has turned down an invite to the state banquet on Tuesday for US President Donald Trump, just four days after he RSVP'd to the event.
Manmohan Singh, 87, conveyed his regret to the office of President Ram Nath Kovind on Monday citing health reasons, amid reports that his Congress party is upset about its chief Sonia Gandhi being ignored.
No meeting has been organized between President Trump and any opposition leader which, Congress leaders point out, has been the tradition during such foreign visits.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the Congress leader in Lok Sabha, will also not attend the dinner at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Official sources said it was "surprising" that Manmohan Singh as well as Mr Azad first confirmed their presence and had now declined. On the Congress's sulk, the sources said there is "no convention" of inviting the president of the largest opposition party to a presidential banquet.
During the Congress-led UPA's 10 years in office, said the sources, two US Presidents visited India but no BJP chief was invited to presidential banquets even though it was the largest opposition party at the time.
President Trump is on a two-day visit to India and will fly out right after the banquet. Today, he arrived in Ahmedabad in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state Gujarat and addressed a massive rally with the PM at a cricket stadium before flying to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.
Tomorrow, President Trump and PM Modi are expected to hold talks in Delhi. At the same time, First Lady Melania Trump will visit a Delhi government school to watch a "Happiness class" introduced by the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Days after a bitter campaign for the Delhi election, AAP is angry about Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia being dropped from Melania Trump's visit. The US embassy on Sunday clarified that it was because the visit was not meant to be political.
"While the US embassy had no objection to the presence of the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister, we appreciate their recognition that this is not a political event and that it is best to ensure that the focus is on education, the school, and the students," said a US Embassy spokesperson.