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Rome Putra and the 20 minute Mumbai Local Train ride

February 7, 2010

Raj Thackarey may be disliked by many, but the man does have the gift of the gab. There was this very shrill controversy about Mumbai for Mumbaikars (read Maharashtrians). Rahul Gandhi is doing what the other more famous Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, or Mahatma Gandhi did almost a century ago – go out and discover India. Mahatma Gandhi did this on Indian trains and had a whale of a time, along with his British journalist friend Charlie. Rahul Gandhi, while not exactly on a Bharat Khoj, is going around the country, revamping his party and encouraging young men and women to join the Congress.

He started with Uttar Pradesh, his ‘home state’ and has worked hard in some of the districts in and around Rae Bareilly. He then went on to Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh. Recently he was in Patna and that is when he said that India is for Indians and all Indians can live and work anywhere including Mumbai. The Shiv Sena and the MNS (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) of Raj Thackrey had been saying that Mumbai is bursting on its seams and that migrant population from UP and Bihar take away jobs from local Maharashtrians. Rahul Gandhi, playing on Bihari sentiments remarked that during the 26/11 attacks the men of the National Security Guards were from all over India, including UP and Bihar. They went on to neutralize the terrorists, did the Sena then say that those commandos who were from UP and Bihar shall not be allowed to secure Mumbai? This hurt the Sena’s tremendously. While Udhav Thackrey of the Shiv Sena saw this comment as an affront to the Maharashtrian martyrs like Karkare, Salaskar, Omble and others, Raj Thackrey took another kind of a dig at the Gandhi scion. Those who know Hindi can understand Marathi in bits and parts. In one of his speeches, Raj remarked about ‘Rome putra’ (son of Rome), obviously referring to Rahul Gandhi. This had the nation in splits. Some of us, still can’t get the smirk off our faces, looking at the way Raj with a naughty smile on his face called out to Sonia Gandhi, nee Maino’s son Rahul – “Rome putra’!!! In politics, as they say, anything goes. This was bound to happen. Others including Narendra Modi have also pointed out to the foreign origins of Sonia Gandhi, the chief of the Congress Party, but all barbs at Sonia and Rahul were ducked effortlessly by the consummate politicians that the mother-son duo are. This ‘Rome Putra’ tongue-in-cheek comment struck a chord with the people – maybe not politically, but definitely on a personal level. The nation is in splits and the Gandhi’s have reacted.

One would have expected the first family of the country to do something telling, something fundamental to make a point. They have been in politics long enough as a family to understand that actions speak louder than words. Soon after his Patna visit which created a political storm, Rahul was scheduled to visit Mumbai. He was to heli-hop from one place to another, obviously for security reasons. Sena had said that they would show black flags to Rahul Gandhi when he came to Mumbai. While Rahul did arrive in a helicopter, he however, after addressing a meeting took his cavalcade to Dadar station, the bastion of Sena and on the way stopped at an ATM to withdraw money and went on to board a Mumbai local train to Ghatkoper. This took the security agencies by surprise and there was a buzz all around. The message was very clear. He wanted to tell the people of Mumbai and Maharshtra that he was one of them and that he was no ‘Rome putra’. The 20 minutes in a Mumbai local train sent a very strong message and that was Rahul’s way of saying that he was in touch with the ground realities. He also talked to some of the commuters on the train and asked them about their problems. No ‘Rome putra’ would travel in a Mumbai local. Rahul by this small but significant gesture made all those who call him a foreigner one way or the other look small and redundant.

But let us not forget that all the players in this drama are politicians. They have their individual constituencies to cater to and they are all playing to the galleries. The Thackrey cousins are vying for the same pie – the Marathi Manoos, the Congress being a national party has its eyes on more important UP and Bihar constituency. The Congress along with its ally, the NCP has just won the Maharashtra election and therefore is focusing on UP and Bihar. Besides, the Congress is so strong in Maharashtra, that they know that such barbs as they come from political lightweights as Raj and Udhav Thackrey may have nuisance value but are no real threat to the Congress bastion that Maharshtra has become. This confidence stems from the fact that successive Congress leader’s right from Vasant Dada Patil, Yehwantrao Chavan to S.B. Chavan and Sharad Pawar have given Congress such strong roots in parts of Maharashtra, because they have worked for the people there, created educational institutions and looked after the welfare of the region in a manner that Shiv Sena cannot contemplate. Shiv Sena and MNS are Mumbai based outfits that have little ground support in other parts of Maharashtra. Rahul Gandhi can therefore afford to pander to the sentiments of the people of UP and Bihar, that throw up more than a hundred MP’s between them.

The rest of India is also listening. There has been increased movement of population in the recent years. People are moving from North to South and from South to North and from East to West and from West to East.  There can be no doubt that India is for Indians. That freedom of movement and to live and work anywhere in India is a fundamental right of all Indians. In that Rahul has hit a chord. The Thackrey’s are not off the mark when they say that outsiders are taking away jobs from Maharashtrians and that is a sore wound for the local population. The local Congress leaders echo what the Sena is pointing out. All are catering to their own constituency. The 15 year residence certificate to get a taxi drivers’ permit in Mumbai is a weak attempt by the Congress government at assuaging the feelings of the Marathi Manoos.

Be as it may, Rahul Gandhi’s four hour visit to Mumbai brew a storm like none other in recent memory. Suffice to say that the Gandhi scion came up trumps and made others look small and insignificant. The man is miles ahead of his political opponents. The BJP remained quiet and maintained that India is for Indians – echoing what the Congress has said. Udhav Thackrey said that Gandhi’s trip was like a trip to an ATM – a short brief visit with little substance. The one that coined ‘Rome Putra’ – Raj Thackrey has yet to open his mouth about Rahul’s Mumbai visit. His one-liners can be deadly. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with next.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. arun permalink
    February 9, 2010 6:32 am

    An interesting write up about the lighter side of Indian politics!!! But Rohul Gandhi took a security risk that he should avoid.

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