Thimphu, Oct 15: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was the centre of attraction today at the ceremonial reception accorded to Bhutan's newly-wed royal couple as he was the only guest invited to the event, signifying the importance this tiny nation attaches to the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Gandhi, who arrived here from New Delhi yesterday to attend the celebrations, mingled freely with members of the royal family, who had personally invited him to participate in the National Celebrations to mark the fairy tale wedding of King Jigme Khesar Nagyel Wangchuck with his childhood sweetheart Jetsun Pema.
The ceremonial reception, during which the King and the Queen were accorded Guard of Honour by the Royal Bhutan Army, was a family-and-government affair except for the presence of Gandhi, who is a close friend of 31-year-old Oxford-educated King.
Accompanied by the present King's father Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Rahul came to the Tashichho Dzong, the seat of the Royal Government of Bhutan, at around 7 am local time, much later than the members of the royal family who had assembled at the large monastic fortress.
The 41-year-old Nehru-Gandhi family scion was introduced to Je Khenpo, the chief monk of Bhutan, and then escorted straight to the place where the members of the royal family were waiting.
All shook hands with him warmly and the Amethi MP was seen chatting with them casually for over 20 minutes as they waited for the King and the Queen to arrive.
“He (Rahul) is the only guest invited for the ceremony. He is a very close friend of our King and both families have had an excellent relationship over the years,” Dasho Kinley Dorji, Secretary, Bhutan's Ministry of Information and Communication, told PTI.
“His father Rajiv Gandhi was a close friend of the present King's father,” he said.
Rahul Gandhi, a personal guest of the royal family, was not accompanied by SPG personnel when he visited the palace and attended the reception.
Sporting a smile, Rahul, clad in his trademark white kurta-pyjama with a black coat, welcomed the King and Queen with a ‘namaste' and even bowed for a while along with the members of the royal family as a mark of respect to the couple.
Rahul was also introduced to other members of the civilian government and stood patiently as the Guard of Honour was presented.
At the National Day celebrations too, Rahul was a special guest and was seated in a special enclosure that had only members from the royal family.
His party colleague and Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia came to his enclosure and was seen talking to him for a while.
Whenever the King stood up, the people sitting with him in the royal enclosure also rose.
The Gandhi family has had a special kinship with the Bhutanese royals ever since the time of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
The entire Gandhi family, including Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, had attended Wangchuck's coronation in 2008.