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‘Mamatadidi’, here comes competition

For Santro and slippers, there’s Metro & broom

Aam CM hitches Metro ride in ladies’ seat but skips the walk

Arvind Kejriwal waits at the crowded Kaushambi station for the Metro

New Delhi, Dec. 28: Mamata Banerjee had chosen a private black Santro over an official car to travel to Calcutta’s Raj Bhavan for her swearing-in two-and-a-half years ago.

Today, Arvind Kejriwal went one better in showcasing his rejection of the trappings of power.

The Aam Aadmi Party boss rode a Metro train, submitting to security frisking, on his way to the Ramlila Maidan to be anointed Delhi’s youngest chief minister.

“He always talks about Mamatadidi’s simple lifestyle and how she wears rubber slippers even after becoming chief minister,” a Kejriwal aide told The Telegraph.

He looks haggard as he takes a ladies’ seat in the Metro, chock-full of supporters and journalists

“Mamatadidi has a competitor now,” he joked.

Still, a few concessions had to be made to the practicalities of power. One, the Metro authorities arranged an empty six-coach train for Kejriwal at Kaushambi — the second station on the line — refusing to let passengers enter it at the first station, Vaishali.

Two, the chief minister-designate dropped his original plan to get off at New Delhi station, the one nearest to the Ramlila Maidan, and walk the remaining 1km.

Realising he would then have to change trains at the crowded Rajiv Chowk station, he got off at Barakhamba Road station, 3km from the Ramlila Maidan, and took a car ride.

Kejriwal was supposed to get off the Metro at Rajiv Chowk, take another train to New Delhi station and walk for around 1km to the Ramlila Maidan. However, possibly because of the huge crowds likely at Rajiv Chowk, he got off at Barakhamba Road, the previous station,and reached the Ramlila Maidan by car

Here too, though, he took a leaf out of Mamata’s book and rode a private car — the same blue WagonR in which he had reached Kaushambi station from his home.

Like the Bengal chief minister, he stopped at traffic signals like any ordinary citizen but went one up on her by eschewing the paraphernalia of police escorts and pilot cars.

It was 10.35am when Kejriwal stepped out of his Kaushambi flat and hopped into the WagonR for the 1km drive to the Metro station.

His wife Sunita, daughter Harshita, son Pulkit and sister Ranjana Gupta got into another car. The ministers-in-waiting and their families, other party leaders and volunteers occupied the remaining half-a-dozen private cars in the convoy. Kejriwal’s elderly parents stayed back home.

After taking the oath, the chief minister visits Raj Ghat

A crowd had already gathered at Kaushambi station, many of the commuters choosing to miss their trains just to travel with Kejriwal.

As the convoy arrived at 10.45am, a chant went up: “Phool ki na haath ki/ Dilli ho gayi Aap ki/ Aam aadmi jeet ke aa/ Itihaas racha ke aa.”

A rough translation: Neither the flower’s nor the hand’s (a reference to the BJP and Congress symbols, the hand and the lotus)/ Delhi has become yours (a pun on the AAP’s acronym)/ Common man, go on and achieve victory/ Go on and script history.

Wife Sunita at the Kaushambi station. Pictures by Yasir Iqbal and Rajesh Kumar

After a tough time navigating the crowd, Kejriwal used his Metro smart card and entered the platform, where a heaving mass of humanity clapped, cheered and clicked his photos.

“History is being made,” said commuter S.K Singh, 61, who took out his cellphone and captured the moment. Singh had missed two trains to be “part of the historic ride”.

“Who has done this before in India? None,” he said.

Kejriwal climbed into an empty train at 11am and sat down in a ladies’ seat. There were no women in his coach, which was jam-packed as party volunteers jostled with reporters and news photographers to get in.

Only a handful of ordinary commuters were able to push their way into Kejriwal’s compartment; the elderly Singh wasn’t among them. The families of Kejriwal and party leaders got into the ladies’ compartment.

“We never thought the crowd would be this huge,” Sunita Kejriwal said.

The chief minister-designate looked exhausted and harried. He coughed frequently. “He has been suffering from incessant cough these past few days,” a party supporter said. A bottle of mineral water meant for the leader was passed around briskly.

Two officials from the Central Industrial Security Force, which had deployed additional personnel at both Kaushambi and Barakhamba Road stations, kept close to Kejriwal inside the train.

After a half-hour ride, Kejriwal got off at Barakhamba Road with hundreds of supporters and volunteers. A cheering crowd was waiting on the platform with garlands and banners. It split down the middle to let Kejriwal through and then marched to the Ramlila Maidan.

As he was waiting at Kaushambi for Kejriwal, Singh, the elderly commuter, had admitted that passengers would have a tough time if the chief minister took the Metro every day to office — a possibility his party officials have played down.

Even if Kejriwal does so, it’s unlikely that such crowds would gather daily to see him.

“It’s Saturday; so there are fewer commuters,” Singh said.

“Had it been a weekday, commuters would have faced problems considering the way party supporters and volunteers have taken over the station.”

Sanjana Tiwari, a homemaker who had come to Kaushambi station just to witness “history” being made, said: “The expectations from Kejriwal are very high. People are loving his gesture but he has his hands full.”