Photographs: Sahil Salvi
Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi on Friday called upon the youth of Mumbai to focus on the inclusive development of India and stay away from divisive politics.
He also took a commuter train to address a public meeting at Ramabai Nagar in Mumbai's suburban Ghatkopar to send out a strong message to the Shiv Sena.
Rahul arrived on Mumbai in the morning amid tight security following Sena's threat to greet him with black flags.
'If you want to make a change, join politics'
Addressing 1,100 college students at Bhaidas Hall in suburban Vile Parle, Rahul said: "If you want to make a change, join politics and the Congress party. Some people are trying to divert your attention from real issues, but you have to stay focused."
"Congress stands for a united India. There are two kinds of leaders in the country, one who divide and rule and the other who collaborate and take everyone along towards the objective of a united India and move forward."
'I know one thing, that I am Indian'
There are some people here who are trying to divide you on communal and linguistic basis and Congress is against them, the Congress general secretary said.
Yash Panchal from N N College, who attended the meeting, said that the hour-long deliberation with the Congress leader was a good experience.
"My great-grandfather was born in Allahabad, who also had his origins in Jammu and Kashmir. I live in Delhi," Rahul said, adding, "Where should I say I belong to? I know one thing that I am Indian and I belong to India."
Rahul also interacted with the students on the process of enrolment in the Youth Congress. When a student asked him why was he in politics, the Gandhi scion said he was "irritated" with the present political system and wanted to change it.
'Students found Rahul to be a genuine person'
Dhawal Kantawal, a second year MBA student, said Rahul began his interaction saying that he had come there to have fun with them.
Then he asked us how many students were from families having political background, Dhawal said.
Six-seven students raised their hands. Then he asked that how many students knew the process to get into politics, to which one replied that it was through family connection. Rahul said he was here to deal with those who did not have any political family background and get these people into politics, Dhawal added.
Prabdeep Singh, a student hailing from Chandigarh, said even though all the students found Rahul to be a genuine person, they were cynical in their judgement about politicians.
'We could not take our eyes off him'
We do not know whether Youth Congress is a well-oiled machinery, which can translate Rahul's vision into reality, Singh said. However, the student expressed his desire to join Youth Congress.
All the girls found Rahul to be a very good-looking, Nidhi Bang said. "We could not take our eyes off him."
Nidhi said she, too, was planning to join Youth Congress.
Dhawal said even though he was a BJP supporter, he found the Congress general secretary very impressive.
Meanwhile, some students said they felt that Rahul's visit was a marketing exercise for the YC membership drive and that he was unwilling to discuss other issues even though he answered questions regarding preparation for Commonwealth Games and the state of education system.
'We were not informed in advance about his travel by train'
After addressing college students at Bhaidas Hall in Vile Parle, Rahul boarded a commuter train to Dadar and then switched raliway lines to travel to Ghatkopar.
The Congress leader was initially scheduled to travel to his second venue on a chopper. He was to land at the Vikhroli heli-pad and then proceed to the Ghatkopar venue.
"We were not informed in advance about his travel by train. However, Railway Police Force was there to keep vigil," Western Railway PRO C David said.
"He got into a first class coach of a Kalyan-bound train at Dadar and got off at Ghatkopar, which is four stations away," Central Railway PRO A K Singh said. His security personnel accompanied him.
As per reports, he himself bought his ticket before boarding the train. He had also made an unscheduled stop at an ATM to withdraw money.
A lot proved in a four-hour-long stay
On reaching Ghatkopar, Rahul offered flowers at the statue of Dr Ambedkar. Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, state Congress chief Kripashankar Singh and other Congress leaders, accompanied him.
During his four-hour-long stay, Gandhi swept aside security norms set for him to stop at an ATM in Santa Cruz for cash, boarded a local train from Andheri to Dadar, interacted with people in the streets and in the train and signed autographs.
Besides this, he also interacted with and addressed Youth Congress activists in colleges in the city's Vile Parle and Ghatkopar areas.
Storming the bastion with ease
Vile Parle, Dadar and Ghatkopar are Shiv Sena bastions politically.
Gandhi appeared to be sending a pointed message to the right-wing outfit that he meant what he said that Mumbai is for all Indians, and not just for the 'Marathi Manoos', Maharastrians and Mumbaikars.
Gandhi left by helicopter for Puducherry, but not before indirectly cocking a snook at both the Shiv Sena and the MNS.