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Rahul's impromptu local ride had Sonia in jitters

By Renu Mittal
Last updated on: February 06, 2010 01:26 IST
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It was Rahul Gandhi's day out in Mumbai as he hopped out on to a local train and mingled with the people of Mumbai. Rahul's little detour send turned out to be a nightmare for Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who set alarm bells ringing all the way to Delhi and forced Sonia Gandhi out of the Congress Working Committee meeting, being held at 24 Akbar Road.

Instead of boarding a helicopter to his next destination, Rahul got into a local train, went to an ATM, exchanged pleasantries with the people, all of whom had a great time meeting the junior Gandhi. He did all this without informing the CM and the state's security apparatus.
A jittery Chavan first called up reporters to get news of Rahul's location and then in desperation he called up 10 Janpath to inform them of Rahul's change in plan, as it was being seen as a big risk in the context of the Shiv Sena's resolve to greet him with black flags.

B V Wanchoo, head of the Special Protection Group in charge of security for 10 Janpath, had stepped out of the All India Congress Committee for just 10 minutes during the Congress working committee meeting which began at 1130 hrs. Wanchoo quickly returned to the party's headquarters and briefed Ahmed Patel about the situation in Mumbai.

Patel immediately alerted Sonia Gandhi who left the CWC meeting which continued uninterrupted, she briefly adjourned to her office in the AICC building.

Sources said that she spoke to Rahul
on the mobile phone for a few minutes, after which she returned to the CWC meeting. By then Rahul's Mumbai adventure was over, putting a real scare into both the security and political establishment in Mumbai. His programs were unscheduled and unknown to the state government, with sources saying that any untoward incident would have cost the chief minister his chair.

It is interesting that at almost the same time, Union Defence Minister A K Antony, who is also the party incharge of Maharashtra told the CWC meeting that before they wound up the deliberations he would like to inform the members that a "serious situation is developing in Maharashtra and we have to handle it carefully." He gave a briefing on the recent activities of the Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray's Maharshtra Navnirman Sena.

Antony told the CWC that the Congress party, maharashtra state and the country as a whole have always had a culture of unity and that one part of the country has not been separate from the other. He said there is a need to weaken those forces which are trying to divide the country and people needed to be alert. He said that these elements and forces are trying to challenge this culture and the country should accept this challenge and put them in their place.

But Antony did not mention Rahul's even as the popular perception is that his hugely popular trip to Mumbai is seen as accepting the Sena's challenge and taking them on in their own den.
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Renu Mittal in New Delhi
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