Pune: Rahul Gandhi, charismatic general secretary of the Congress party, fervently attempted to `sell` politics to over 3,500 students and youth - the leaders of tomorrow - during his daylong whirlwind tour of Maharashtra on Tuesday.
Gandhi interacted with students and youth in different age groups - ranging from high school to junior college, and post-graduates in medicine and management, in Akola, Aurangabad and Pune.
Around 1,200 students from 20 educational institutions were invited and handed over special passes for the much-anticipated event and, according to most students, Gandhi did not disappoint.
Among the topics he touched upon at all the three venues (Akola, Aurangabad and Pune) - and sought students` views on - were politics, education, agriculture and corruption, a party official said.
Engaging in an animated discussion with the students in Pune, the Gandhi scion admitted that his Gandhi surname was a definite advantage, but that should not deter others from joining politics.
Asked why he chose to join politics, he said that while the family lineage was a decisive factor, he felt that politics was the biggest instrument of change - "So I am in politics," he smiled at a student who posed the query.
Urging students to join politics, Rahul Gandhi said that youth must come forward and take the plunge into politics.
"Good people must join politics, they can help bring about many positive changes and also help remove corruption," he pointed out.
Touching upon the issue of the rich-versus-poor divide, Rahul Gandhi said that education can help reduce this gap and it is the most effective tool for improving the life of the people.
"All the meetings were informal, the mood casual and the response of the students was very enthusiastic," the party office-bearer told IANS.
As per Gandhi`s express instructions, politicians and mediapersons were kept off bounds - barring Pune where only television cameramen were allowed for the final 10 minutes of his programme at the R.M. Auditorium in Chinchwad, on the outskirts of the city.
Earlier, in New Aurangabad`s CIDCO Auditorium Rahul made a similar impassioned plea to the assembled 1,300 students and youth from 25 colleges, urging them to join politics for the national cause and to practice democracy in a real sence.
He replied to questions ranging from: How can youth make a difference in nation-building? What is your blueprint for the country`s development? What is the solution to burning issues like corruption, communalism and casteism plaguing the country?
And there was a sharp one - "Will you lead in the next Lok Sabha elections?"
Unfazed, Gandhi fielded all the questions effortlessly and ended up leaving the young gathering in the three cities impressed.
After the 75-minute interaction in Pune, students told mediapersons that "Rahul is prime minister material," "he is earnest in his desire to bring about change," "he appears very sincere, but did not offer any concrete solutions to the major problems confronting the nation..."
The organizers had carefully selected the three cities for his itinerary, with the National Students Union of India (NSUI) elections slated next month.
While at Akola he met around 500 students of the Panjabrao Deshmukh University from a pre-dominantly rural setting in the Vidarbha region plagued by farmland suicides, in Pune, the education and IT capital of the state, he interacted with an urbane milieu.
In the historic city of Aurangabad, which falls mid way, there was a big sprinkling of Muslims among the audience.
Party office-bearers say that Gandhi`s interactions with the youth and students were aimed at attracting them to the NSUI, the student wing of the Congress party.
The NSUI is scheduled to hold internal elections and through his meetings, Rahul Gandhi was seen as offering students the option of joining politics through the party`s student wing.