Cocks a snook at the Shiv Sena as he transits through its bastion, interacts with Mumbaikars
The mundane Mumbai train commute turned memorable for hundreds of Mumbaikars on Friday when All India Congress Committee general secretary Rahul Gandhi decided to travel like an “ aam aadmi” between two meetings at Vile Parle and Ghatkopar in Mumbai.
For the Shiv Sena, which came out in spurts to protest his visit with black flags, Mr. Gandhi’s journey was like a slap in the face, even as he transited through its bastion Dadar while going to Ghatkopar.
In an unscheduled turn of events known perhaps to top security officials, Mr. Gandhi caught the 12.56 p.m. fast local train from Andheri to Dadar and later the 1.29 p.m. train from Dadar to Ghatkopar. Hailing Mr. Gandhi’s train commute, Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan in his speech at Ramabai Nagar said that Mr. Gandhi’s action had defied the Shiv Sena.
“It [train travel] is a [fitting] reply to the Sena’s threats. Mumbai is for all; Maharashtra is for all. This is the Congress’ stand.”
Earlier Mr. Gandhi arrived at around 11.30 a.m. at Bhaidas Hall in Vile Parle west in Northwest Mumbai where he addressed over 1000 students from the city colleges for over half an hour. He then walked down from the stage shook hands with students and got into his vehicle ostensibly to go to the Pawan Hans aerodrome nearby.
Umesh Kumawat of Star News who was trailing him after the Bhaidas Hall meeting told The Hindu, “I saw Rahul get off at the junction of S.V. Road and talk to people for over 10 minutes. Then I saw him turn in the direction which was not towards the airport. ”
Kumawat realised that something was up and followed him so fast that even the police were left behind. Rahul went to platform number five on Andheri station and took the 12.56 p.m. fast train to Dadar.
Accompanied by Rajiv Satav, the new Youth Congress president and hordes of security, he travelled second class.
He even stood in line to buy tickets. En route Mr. Gandhi withdrew money from an ATM at Andheri.
Till Dadar he chatted with commuters including an upcoming film-maker and later crossed the foot over bridge from the Western Railway to the Central section where he boarded the 1.29 p.m. local to get off at Ghatkopar, travelling in first class.
He shook hands with commuters, signed autographs. “Rahuljee, please do something for this city,” pleaded one commuter and others asked him about jobs.
People leaned across the partition between the first and second class to shake Mr. Gandhi’s hand.
Mumbai has given the ultimate accolade to Mr. Gandhi. Citizens are conferring him with a daring superstar status, having tackled commuting on the dreaded Mumbai locals and that too on both the Central and Western sections.
N.B. Sheikh, home guard on duty at Dadar station said, “There were about a 100 police officers with him. We escorted him as he took the over bridge to change from Western to Central. There was a huge crowd. People were taking autographs, photos and making videos. He told us, ‘Don’t disturb anyone.’ He waited for about five minutes for the train to arrive. When it came, it was packed. Rahul Gandhi boarded the middle first class compartment and with him a throng of people rushed in.”
Mr. Kumawat, who was in the same compartment, tried to speak to Mr. Gandhi in vain. Mr. Gandhi even intervened when one of the cameraman following him had his camera knocked down by a security guard.
Mumbai police commissioner D. Sivanandan, who also had to ride with Mr. Gandhi till Ghatkopar, said “plan B” was only known to him. “For a policeman this can be a security nightmare but it went off well,” he said.