Rahul Gandhi ends Mumbai visit, leaves for Puducherry | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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Rahul Gandhi ends Mumbai visit, leaves for Puducherry

mumbai Updated: Feb 05, 2010 17:11 IST
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He came, he saw and conquered Shiv Sena's turf Mumbai. Congress MP Rahul Gandhi's whirlwind four-hour visit saw him pulling out money from an ATM, boarding crowded local trains and generating a massive swell of goodwill that swept away the Sena's threats.

Despite sporadic attempts by Sena activists to create hurdles by waving black flags, staging noisy demonstrations and burning Rahul Gandhi's effigies for his comments on Mumbai belonging to all Indians, the Congress general secretary's trip passed off without any untoward incident.

Maximising on the tremendous response to his trip, Rahul Gandhi even attempted something no other national leader of his stature has done in the recent past - travel on two suburban trains along with members of the general public.

He brushed aside security concerns - and his waiting helicopter - at the last minute to zoom off to Andheri to board a Virar-Dadar fast local and got off at Dadar station at 1.17 pm.

Prior to that, like any law-abiding citizen, Rahul Gandhi checked his pockets for some change. Not finding any, he withdrew cash from an ATM near the Andheri station.

The Congress general secretary then stood in queue to buy a ticket and then boarded a Western Railway (WR) local.

Thousands of commuters were pleasantly surprised and even taken aback to see the VVIP in their modest midst. Many jostled to get close to Rahul Gandhi or shake hands with him, giving his security personnel a tough time.

Ditto at Dadar from where he took the stairs over a foot overbridge to catch a slow Central Railway (CR) local train to go to Ghatkopar for his next engagement.

At Dadar and Ghatkopar, he was virtually mobbed by the people trying to catch a glimpse of the leader who had challenged the Shiv Sena with his comments on the role of north Indians in protecting Mumbai during the 26/11 terror attacks.

On both trips, Rahul Gandhi was also accompanied by Mumbai Police Commissioner D. Shivanandhan and Joint Police Commissioner (Crime) Rakesh Maria.

From Ghatkopar, he drove straight to the Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar slums, halting at a large statue of B.R. Ambedkar. There he removed his footwear, garlanded the statue and respectfully bowed in homage to the father of the Indian constitution.

Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and others had sweated it out in the heat below a tree, awaiting Rahul Gandhi for over an hour-and-a-half. After all, the leader was scheduled to take a helicopter, not travel on local trains.

It was a political triumph for Rahul Gandhi in the Shiv Sena's own turf.

An elderly Dalit woman, almost in her 80s and barely able to walk, told waiting mediapersons that she had mustered up the energy only to see Rahul ?beta'.

At the Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar slums, Rahul Gandhi halted in his tracks often to speak to local people, sign autographs and instantly win friends.

Said a 21-year-old college student Lata Sangame: "It is the first time that somebody big like Rahul Gandhi has tried to understand the problems of the people of Mumbai. None of the Shiv Sena leaders have ever travelled in local trains."

A peeved Sena sought to downplay the response of the visit and termed it a drama that had inconvenienced train commuters.

Sena spokesperson Neelam Gorhe told television channels that if he was so concerned about the common man, why could he not walk down from Juhu Airport to Bhaidas Auditorium, a distance of barely a kilometre.

Rahul Gandhi had arrived at around 11 a.m. to a virtual curfew like atmosphere with police on guard to ward off trouble in the face of the Sena's directives to its activists to greet him with black flags on grounds that he had "insulted" Marathi people and Maharashtra.

It was a very different atmosphere when he left a few hours later for Puducherry.