- Is it Rahul-ji's birthday? Is it today or tomorrow? asked Ramdas Athawale
- He is my friend, let me congratulate you: Mr Athawale told Mr Gandhi
- Mr Gandhi was seated beside his mother Sonia Gandhi in opposition benches
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi tweeted this morning, saying he wished to thank people for the love he received on his birthday. He turned 49 today. Barely a couple of hours later, he received something rather different -- public ribbing from rival leader BJP ally Ramdas Athawale that left the Lok Sabha in splits.
"Is it Rahul-ji' s birthday? Is it today or tomorrow?" questioned Mr Athawale as he stood up to deliver a welcome speech to Om Birla, who was elected at a joint session of parliament this morning .
When Mr Gandhi -- seated beside his mother and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in the opposition benches -- nodded, and a few others confirmed it, he continued, "Well, he is my friend and let me congratulate you as you got an opportunity to sit here".
As the guffaws started, Mr Athawale continued, "I mean, you tried a lot... but hey, these things happen in a democracy. What people want - that party comes to power... when you were in power, I was with you. This time before the elections, the Congress people told me - 'why are you on that side, come here'. But I said 'What would I do over there?' because I knew the tide was towards Modi-ji."
#WATCH:Ramdas Athawale in Lok Sabha says,"Rahul ji aapko wahan baithne ka mauka mila isiliye aapko badhai deta hoon.Jab apki satta thi tab main aapke saath tha.Chunav ke pehle mujhe Congress wale bol rahe the idhar aao.Maine hawa ka rukh dekha ki woh Modi ji ki taraf ja rahi hai" pic.twitter.com/p6ccS4mNKI- ANI (@ANI) June 19, 2019
By the time he finished, there was laughing, cheering and hooting from all sides. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was shaking with laughter. So were Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. Even newly elected Speaker Om Birla was smiling away.
It was also Mr Athawale -- whose Republican Party of India is a BJP ally in Maharashtra - who drew attention to Mr Gandhi's absence in the Lok Sabha yesterday. "Where is Rahul Gandhi", he was heard asking as PM Modi took oath amid cheers.
Rahul Gandhi, who lost the family seat of Amethi to the BJP's union minister Smriti Irani, had skipped parliament yesterday morning and reached only in the afternoon to take oath. He retained his place in the Lok Sabha after winning from Kerala's Wayanad seat.
Mr Athawale, who quit Maharashtra's Congress-Sharad Pawar alliance in 2009 and became a BJP ally since 2011, is the Minister of Social Justice in PM Modi's government.
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