Rahul Gandhi did what most Mumbaikars do and left citizens and security personnel in awe and the Shiv Sena in shock on Friday. Gandhi commuted by Mumbai’s lifeline — he boarded a fast local at Andheri at 1pm to Dadar and walked across the foot overbridge to come to the central line to take another train to Ghatkopar.
Scripted or otherwise, in the world of realpolitik the commute ranks up there with Indira Gandhi’s masterstroke to station herself in Tamil Nadu in 1965 during a prolonged anti-Hindi riots then.
Rahul did not refer to the ongoing Marathi vs migrant issue, but added to the aura of his train travel when, in a brief speech to Congress youth party cadre in Ghatkopar, said, “I get inspiration from the city and Mumbaikars whenever I have visited the city.”
After addressing college students at Bhaidas Hall, he made a sudden stop at an ATM to withdraw money and headed to Andheri station to buy a first-class ticket (reports said that he bought tickets for his security personnel too) to take the local. His earlier scheduled itinerary included being driven to Juhu airport and boarding a helicopter to get to Ghatkopar.
Though the railway police and other security personnel had to put in place standard operating procedure on the fly, fellow commuters and girls in particular went gaga over the Nehru-Gandhi scion.
“I stood on the bridge at Dadar when I saw police and people running. It was very nice to see Rahul Gandhi walk across this bridge. He was just like anyone of us,” said Megha Chunekar.
Uddhav Thackeray, on the other hand, was fuming, calling Gandhi’s visit to the city as a demonstration of “Mussolini rule” in Maharashtra. “This shows what kind of a ‘Mussolini raj’ is prevalent in Maharashtra,” Thackeray said referring to the heavy security blanket. “If such a police cover is kept every day for the commoners there will be no terrorism in the city,” he said.
Thackeray claimed that Gandhi had to abandon his early plans of taking a chopper to Ghatkopar because of his partymen. “Our workers showed him (Gandhi) black flags at several places. That is why he felt insecure and chose to travel by train instead of the
helicopter,” he said.
Notwithstanding the posturing by Thackeray, Gandhi did floor Mumbaikars.
Young girls went ecstatic meeting Gandhi. One girl squealed at Ghatkopar, “I saw him, I saw him” and the only buzz around the station was “Rahulji, Rahulji’’. Gandhi obliged, turning to wave and smile.
“People at Dadar were shouting slogans in his name and the Congress. However, he requested them not to shout slogans,” said railway constable Pradeep Bhasme, who witnessed all the events.
The only deviation the railways made was to divert Gandhi’s train from a fast to slow track. “He had boarded a Kalyan bound fast train. We diverted to the first platform at Ghatkopar, for security reasons,” said ML Jadhav, station master at Ghatkopar railways station.
At the end of the whole journey, the Mumbai police personnel on the scene were puffing and panting. In fact, the commissioner of police D Sivanandan too was not aware of the change in Gandhi’s plans.
(Spot reporting by Neeta Kolhatkar, Surendra Gangan, Kiran Tare and Dayanand Kamath)