Rahul Gandhi's January 15 visit to Mumbai was a stunner of sorts. Addressing a huge gathering at a city ground, the Congress vice president, who touched on a host of issues, took a potshot at the BJP government excoriating it of vacuous grandstanding on the social issues.
The Gandhi scion also later played the piped piper and had the people rallying round him during his five-km trek through the city from Bandra to the slums of Dharavi. Hundreds of Congressmen walked alongside their leader in a public show of strength the city hadn't seen for a long time.
His speech, however, was a damp squib and steered clear of making a mention of the rift in the party between its city chief and the MPCC boss. The speech, it was widely speculated, was meant to remedy the factional rivalry in the state Congress which came out in the open following a controversial article in the Congress mouthpiece 'Mumbai Sandesh' that was critical of Jawaharlal Nehru's decision to drag the Kashmir issue to the UN in the post-independence phase.
The crowd went into a frenzy when Gandhi approached the podium. Scores of people had gathered on the pavement outside and even settled down on the tarmac. Father Justin ground in Malad a relatively small park was inundated by congress workers and the outsides filled by congress supporters.
Rahul Gandhi's tone was defiantly confident and he seemed to have very good grasp on his audience—his criticisms were lauded and his concerns met by positive responses from the audience. The workers who had chairs laid out for them seemed very happy with their vice president's resolute and affirming tone. It seemed that the factions that arose had been brought together by his presence. A success for Rahul Gandhi that way.
The police sanitized the neighbourhood and the overall security was tight. They looked vigilant although a conversation this correspondent picked up with one of them made it seem like they treated the grandiosity of it all rather dismissively.
When Gandhi took the stage the usual cheer grew into one with much more enthusiasm and fervour. All eyes remained fixed on the vice president of the party. His first sentence was an appeal to popular sentiment and spoke about the festivities of Makar Sankranti.
He then switched to criticising the treatment of solid waste in the city and its ineptness despite PM Modi's Swach Bharat campaign. He also in continuation pointed out the Brahinmumbai Municipality Corporation's (BMC) decision to ordain only Rs 100 crores to Mumbai's development for the smart city scheme from a total budget of Rs 33,000 crore.
The Congress scion, however, was very tactful when dealing with the State unit president Sanjay Nirupam's alleged role in the defamatory articles published in the Congress journal. The hostile faction is led by a man called Gurudas Kamat. All that Rahul Gandhi suggested that everyone needs to calm down.
His speech concluded with a few niceties and he quickly exited the setting. But the Congress members who had plenty to tell to him were seen hanging around the leader trying to curry favour with him. The crowd outside hurried away trying to avoid the imminent traffic jams yet all through holding up Congress flags and shouting slogans.
At the end of the day, Rahul Gandhi's visit was ephemeral but of real importance to his partymen bringing a needed assurance to their precarious position.