Rahul Gandhi abruptly veered off from his convoy on Friday to get on to an overflowing Mumbai local, one of the city’s most enduring symbols, as if to tell its passengers: I am one of you.
In light of the recent war of words between Rahul and the Shiv Sena, he made an unambiguous political statement by taking the train to Dadar in north-central Mumbai — the Marathi heartland that houses the Sena’s headquarters — from Andheri.
Rahul was initially to go by a helicopter from Vile Parle in northwest Mumbai, where he addressed college students, to the predominantly Dalit Ramabai Nagar in Ghatkopar, northeast Mumbai, and then fly on to the Mumbai airport. Instead, he took a foot-over bridge at Dadar and took a car to the eastern suburb.
His apparently last-minute deviation from the itinerary, therefore, caught both senior Congress members and the railway police off guard.
“We were told four minutes before he boarded the train,” said Kaisar Khalid, deputy commissioner of police (railways). “We followed the standard operations procedure and sanitised the compartment. It was a big challenge.”
Rahul caused a stir in the train compartment.
“The commuters were excited to see ‘Rahulji’ travelling with them like a common citizen, said Rajeev Satav, youth Congress president, who accompanied him.
“It was a befitting reply to our detractors.” Rahul’s four-hour visit seems to have caught the Sena by surprise. Its leaders’ response was limp, especially in contrast with their recent aggressive rhetoric.
“We had planned to greet Rahul with black flags and that we did,” Uddhav Thackeray, the party’s executive president told a press conference. “Our protest was a success.”
Referring to the tight security blanket around the city, he added: “This shows what kind of Mussolini raj (rule) is prevalent in Maharashtra.”
Gandhi also made an unscheduled visit to the Bank of India on Swami Vivekanand Road in Vile Parle, further impressing his admirers. “We were stunned by his simplicity,” said G.C. Narang, the bank manager.
But Thackeray wasn’t amused: He said: “Mumbai means Delhi’s ATM.”
On Rahul’s train travel, the Sena leader said: “Why speak of only local trains and helicopters? Everything was kept ready for him, bailgaadi (bullock cart), haath gaadi (hand cart)... I even heard Ashok Chavan was waiting with a bicycle to give a double lift to Rahul.”
During his visit, Gandhi had said not word about the Sena or its leaders, but had managed turn the tables on the party.
“By not turning it into a media event, he tried to show that he was honest in his efforts,” said B. Venkatesh Kumar, a political analyst.