Mumbai, Jan 15: Visiting Mumbai after nearly two years, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi sought to unite feuding party leaders and motivate party workers ahead of the municipal elections due early next year.
Reaching here on a two-day visit, he became the first top party leader in years to move deep into the Mumbai suburbs, travelling to Malad West to address a huge rally of party workers.
Sporting a pair of jeans and a white shirt, Gandhi appeared relaxed and cheerful after his recent European sojourn. He was received by Mumbai party unit chief Sanjay Nirupam and other top city and state leaders who were accompanied by enthusiastic party activists at a school ground where he made a speech.
Perhaps taking a leaf from Prime Minister Narendra Modi who frequently uses the local language, Gandhi, in his speech, sought to tug at the emotional strings of Mumbaikars on the occasion of Makar Sankaranti.
"Tilgul ghya ani godd godd bola" (Eat sesame cookies and speak sweetly)," he began, in apparent advice to the pro- and anti-Nirupam factions. They had come to abuse and fisticuffs, ironically, at a preparatory meeting for Gandhi's visit.
His opening remarks sought to melt any residual anger and resentment among the leaders - like the delicious tilgul which melts in the mouth - and the tense atmosphere on the dais suddenly became friendly.
A die-hard Congressman from Powai, Pradeep Menon, who attended the meeting, said the tilgul remark made "a positive impact both on the workers and leaders as well as the ordinary Mumbaikars..."
However, despite his casual dress, Gandhi appeared focused and clear about where he wanted party activists to concentrate their energies on if the party wanted to make a difference to the life of Mumbaikars. The target was to be winning the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation elections - due exactly in 12 months. The BMC has been out of the Congress' control for nearly three decades now.
"We must build a strong foundation for the Congress in the city. First, we must win the BMC elections, have our own mayor, then go on to the assembly and Lok Sabha elections (due in 2019)," he exhorted the party men and women assembled in large numbers.