BENGAL POLITICS: Seasonal bird? Here comes a national reply – Party hears a repartee, Santiniketan girls go ra-ra

BENGAL POLITICS: Seasonal bird? Here comes a national reply – Party hears a repartee, Santiniketan girls go ra-ra – ‘abhi bhi Dilli bahut dur lagti hai’ (still … Delhi looks too far away) ?!!

Rahul Gandhi atop an SUV in Garden Reach on Tuesday. (Biswarup Dutta) - a security nightmare ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH BUREAU

Calcutta, Sept. 14: The Congress is not a “seasonal or regional party but an all-India party”, an MLA today quoted Rahul Gandhi as telling a convention in Calcutta a day after Mamata Banerjee said she was not a “seasonal cuckoo”.

Congress MLA Abdul Khaleq Mollah from Garden Reach said Rahul, who began his Bengal tour on a rousing note in Santiniketan in the morning, made the assertion about the reach of the party at a minority convention in the evening.

The audience at the closed-door session greeted Rahul’s remarks with applause, the MLA added.

What Rahul said about the national character of the Congress cannot be disputed. But the reported choice of the word “seasonal” appears to have electrified the party rank and file who saw in it a dignified repartee to Mamata’s perceived potshot in north Bengal yesterday.

“I am not like the proverbial koel (cuckoo) that arrives in spring and disappears once the season is over. There is consistency in my work as railway minister in north Bengal,” the Trinamul chief had said.

Seen along with Rahul’s frequent visits to Bengal, a sense of revival among Congress workers and Mamata’s eagerness to break into north Bengal, many felt that her reference to the seasonal bird was an oblique admission that she was not taking lightly the Congress general secretary’s forays into the state.

Congress sources said Rahul was briefed by party leaders about Mamata’s remarks once he landed at the airport.

Manas Bhuniya, the Congress state president who has shown a proactive streak since taking over the reins, took a dig at Mamata without naming her. “One may call Rahulji koel of the spring. But one should not forget that Rahulji is a leader of a party that has been with the people for a long 125 years,” he said.

On the political front, Rahul picked up the thread from where he had left it on September 6. “Self-respect” — the theme that capped his visit last time — was the focal point on Tuesday.

The AICC leader told the convention that the Congress was keen to preserve the partnership with the Trinamul Congress but it would have to be based on dignity. “In Bengal, we have a partnership with the TMC. We will have to walk alongside each other. But I think that if there is a partnership, it should be based on dignity. That would mean respecting the people,” Rahul said.

He did launch a customary attack on the Left Front — “change is coming, the Left is going to close shop” — but the Congress ranks focused on the nature of the relationship with Trinamul.

Youth Congress activists and elected party representatives from Birbhum, Murshidabad, Malda, North 24-Parganas and Nadia wanted to know if the leadership would “surrender” to Mamata to stitch an alliance for next year’s Assembly polls as it did before last year’s Lok Sabha elections.

“Rahulji, our leaders accepted only 14 seats out of 42 during last year’s Lok Sabha polls following a diktat from the Trinamul leadership. Will our leaders make a similar surrender to our alliance partner before next year’s Assembly polls to strike a seat-sharing deal?” a source quoted Humayun Kabir, the leader of the Opposition in the CPM-controlled Murshidabad zilla parishad, as asking.

Kabir, along with elected representatives from Malda and Birbhum, was attending a closed-door interactive session convened by Rahul in Bolpur.

Asked about it later, Kabir said: “When Rahulji patiently heard my arguments, I urged him to ensure that the alliance must not be struck at the cost of the party’s self-esteem.”

PM poser deflected, gently – Others, too, can solve problems: Rahul – now only if Rahul could get the ‘exact local consensus’ right and mature some more ?!!

A raft of hands, many of them girls’, reaches out as Rahul Gandhi steps out of his vehicle in front of Uttarayan in Santiniketan on Tuesday. (Amit Datta) - as popular as a film star, but now for more mature national politics, how about an international tie & suit, safari-suit or track-suit Look - beard reminds one too much of Kalmadi and his whiff of corruption ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY MITA MUKHERJEE

Santiniketan, Sept. 14: Rahul Gandhi today deftly sidestepped a question on his “vision as a future Prime Minister”, saying one need not be a Prime Minister to ameliorate people’s problems.

The question was posed at a closed-door interactive session the Congress general secretary had with students of Visva-Bharati. Students from Class IX — the varsity also has a school within the campus — to the doctoral level participated in the session.

The student wanted to know how Rahul would solve the problems of the people when he became Prime Minister and what his vision would be if he took the top political post.

Rahul promptly replied: “Do you think a Prime Minister alone can take the responsibility of eliminating all problems? Others can, too.”

Nilanjan Banerjee, the special officer of Rabindra Bhavan who was present at the session, told The Telegraph later that Rahul “was very good”.

“Rahul Gandhi handled the question with maturity and did not get into the issue of him becoming the Prime Minister. He handled (other) questions very deftly.”

According to those who attended the event, Rahul was equally at ease with questions on corruption. One such query was: If you were Prime Minister, how would you have removed corruption?

The participants said Rahul had told them that there was no point only complaining. “He said we should all work towards removing corruption from all walks of life. He said we would face resistance while doing so but it was nevertheless our duty to come forward to do so,” one participant said.

Bannerjee said Rahul showed a lot of poise, handling even the uncomfortable posers with ease. “It was clear there were occasions when he did not like the questions hurled at him, but he nevertheless went ahead and answered them tactfully.”

But Rahul didn’t only take questions, he posed some too. He asked the students, for instance, what in their opinion constituted wisdom, knowledge, information and education, and the co-relation between them. “That led to a lively discussion with students offering divergent views. Rahul appeared pleased,” Banerjee said.

Later, Rahul inaugurated Three Chancellors, a collection of articles and paintings associated with the three former chancellors of the university — Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. The exhibition contained rare photographs and the letters the three former Prime Ministers had written about Santiniketan.

According to university officials, Rahul appeared overwhelmed to see the photos of his greatgrandfather, grandmother and father — pausing before a picture of Rajiv before moving to the others. Before leaving, he wrote in the visitors’ book: “It is an honour for me to come to Santiniketan. Am very proud to see that the spirit of our founding father lives on here.”

Why I chanted Raa-hul – the star remains, but the votes unfortunately don’t go to the ‘minions’ …. well, maybe some, like in Sikkim ?!!

Rahul Gandhi in Santiniketan on Tuesday. (Amit Datta) - a bit of hormonal overdrive ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY MITA MUKHERJEE

Santiniketan, Sept. 14: Raa-hul, Raa-hul, Raa-hul…

Rabindrasangeet paused for a brief while in Santiniketan this morning as girls climbed trees, clung to branches, perched themselves on railings and kept vigil at the barricades.

As soon as any car approached the gates of Uttarayan in Visva-Bharati, where Rahul Gandhi was to hold an interactive session with the students, the chant rose: “Raa-hul, Raa-hul, Raa-hul….

Rahul’s SUV reached the gates at 9.45am, 25 minutes behind schedule. When he suddenly stopped the vehicle and stepped out, the girls outnumbered the boys in stretching out their hands.

Sraboni Ghosh, 14, a Class IX student of Pathabhawan, was among those who managed to shake Rahul’s hand. She was waiting near the Uttarayan gate since 7.30am, booking a place just behind the barricade.

In her own words, Sraboni’s “unbelievable moment” follows:

How do I describe the excitement I felt every time I saw a car approaching the gate and thinking it was Rahul Gandhi coming? Or the joy in screaming “Raa-hul” in anticipation of him entering the institution?

I think the dominant emotion in me was one of pride. After all, his grandmother Indira Gandhi was a student of the institution where I am studying today. His father Rajiv Gandhi and his great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru as well as his grandmother were all chancellors of this institution.

The moment I learnt that Rahul Gandhi was coming to Santiniketan, I decided that I would not attend school and would instead wait at the gate to meet him. Today, I reached the gates of Uttarayan at 7.30 in the morning, about two hours before Rahul Gandhi’s expected arrival. People were already there and I was lucky to find a place to stand behind the barricade.

It was fun to scream his name every time a car approached the gates because all my friends were very keen to give him a rousing reception. We all wanted to make him feel wanted.

There was, of course, the expected disappointment when we realised that it was not him approaching but just security cars doing their rounds.

Of course, he arrived behind schedule and we had a long wait. But, in the end, I think it was well worth it.

The proudest moment for me — as well the most unbelievable one — was when Rahulji suddenly stepped out of the car and shook my hand. I had never imagined such a thing would happen. I had expected, at best, that he would wave to us and smile.

Never in my wildest dreams had I thought that I would be shaking the hand of this charismatic leader. And so handsome at that.

For me, it would have been enough to have just seen him from behind the glass window of his car.

Today is one of the happiest days in my life. It was like meeting a very close member of my family whom I had never met before. Can anyone define this emotion? At least I cannot.

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