NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a message to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan for Pakistan National Day, but the celebrations in New Delhi last night were marred for not just the hosts but the invitees.

While driving in masked men stopped cars outside the Pakistan High Commission, and claiming to be part of the security apparatus, directed guests not to attend the function. Car numbers and names of guests were being taken down, with some of the men aggressive in their behaviour.

The guests---that included senior journalists, academics, former diplomats, were told to go back in wake of the Pulwama attack. One former foreign secretary, according to eyewitnesses, was so angry and agitated that he started feeling physically unwell.

The behaviour, invitees said, was aggressive and scary. Many ignored the men and attended the reception. It is not clear if any turned back, but again sources said, “they must have as it was all very intimidating and threatening.”

Journalists too were told to go back and not attend the function. The Indian government was not represented, not even by a bureaucrat. Again a precedent of sorts, as even in the days when the two countries were at their most hostile after the Kargil conflict for instance, India was represented at the event by a joint secretary. Usually Ministers grace such events with the rank rising from minister of state to Union Minister depending on the signal New Delhi wants to give.

New Delhi said that it had decided not to send a representative to the High Commission as the Hurriyat representatives had been invited. Incidentally as former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah pointed out in a tweet, in the past India had always been represented regardless of the presence, or otherwise, of the Hurriyat leaders.

A woman activist said that this was so unusual and intimidating. She said that she attended the reception, but the entire atmosphere had gone awry because of the masked men and their threats.

Interestingly earlier in the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a message to PM Khan, extended greetings stating, “it is time that the people of the f Sub-continent work together for a democratic, peaceful, progressive & prosperous region, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence.” Announcing this the Pakistan PM reciprocated the sentiments, and emphasised the need to start a comprehensive dialogue. The scenes at the Pakistan High Commission were quite different from this supposed bonhomie.