|A crowd waits near Raj Bhavan for Pranab Mukherjee on Monday; and (above) the President’s motorcade. (Hardeep Singh)
Thousands of citizens, including students, waited on the 7km stretch connecting Birsa Munda Airport with Raj Bhavan for a glimpse of President Pranab Mukherjee and his motorcade on Monday evening.
The President, sitting to the right of governor Syed Ahmed in a bullet-proof white Ambassador with clear glasses, the third of the 50 vehicles that made up the motorcade, smiled and waved at the crowds who had lined up on Birsa Munda Raj Marg amid tight security.
The motorcade, at a regal speed of 25-35kmph, took 20 minutes to reach the governor’s mansion, giving bystanders ample time to see the First Citizen.
Though the President landed in Ranchi before 1pm, he had flown directly to Dumka on a defence chopper for the SKMU convocation. Mukherjee’s chopper landed on the capital airport again around 6pm after which he entered the city.
Euphoria among citizens, especially schoolchildren with their parents, was palpable. “I loved the President’s motorcade. It was grand,” said Ankur Agrawal, a Class VII student of Bridgeford School.
Twins Andya Kumari and Aditya Kumar, both students of Kairali School, stood with their father Sanjay Kumar Singh, a bike dealer, near the Argora Chowk stretch, clutching hands in excitement.
“It’s a lifetime experience,” the girl said.
“Ranchi had been enthralled last time to this extent when (Bollywood star) Katrina Kaif came to perform at the closing ceremony of the National Games in February 2011. We are so happy today,” beamed Singh.
Earlier, the President stayed at Birsa airport for 30 minutes from 12.55pm to 1.25pm to inspect a guard of honour from Gorkha and Sikh jawans. He also met governor Syed Ahmed, leader of Opposition Rajendra Singh, Ranchi MP Subodh Kant Sahay, home secretary J.B. Tubid, director-general of police Rajeev Kumar, deputy commissioner Vinay Kumar Choubey, senior superintendent of police Saket Kumar Singh and others.
The second time round, some four-and-a-half hours later, smooth arrangements by the district administration ensured the spirit of welcome stayed alive despite the presence of around 500 Jharkhand police, half of whom were armed.
In true democratic tradition, the President’s road show had a thorn amid the roses, symbolically. The road washed to welcome the President earned the wrath of a few such as RSS functionary Laxman Bhawsinghka.
“I respect the President of India. He should be welcomed. But the way water was wasted yesterday to wash the road for his arrival wasn’t good. When Asaram Bapu celebrated Holi with coloured water, intellectuals had criticised him. The same people are silent today. Water shouldn’t be wasted when many Jharkhandis are struggling for one drop in scorching summer,” he said.