Santiniketan, West Bengal: "Rahulda" and "Rahulji" they shouted, surging forward to shake hands with him or seek his autograph. Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi was given a tumultuous welcome by students at Visva Bharati University here Tuesday as he began a three-day trip to West Bengal.
Rahul Gandhi, whose family has had long standing ties with the university founded by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, 200 km from Kolkata, seemed in high spirits as he crossed barricades to shake hands with students. Never mind if he was a little behind schedule.
The young leader had to take a detour via Panagarh as the helicopter allotted to him could not take off from Kolkata due to heavy rains. He was instead flown to Panagarh from where he took a helicopter to Birbhum district`s Bolpur, which houses the university on the sprawling seven-acre plot christened Santiniketan by Tagore`s father.
Minutes after landing at the makeshift helipad, Gandhi jumped a barricade to go and meet some girls who had been standing there, and then he got into his car.
Later, when his motorcade reached the Uttarayan gate of the university, Rahul Gandhi again walked up to the students cheering him. He shook hands with all and sundry, including the securitymen, patted some students on the back, as his smile seemed to broaden every passing minute.
Some students were seen tearing off pieces of exercise books, saying they would take Rahul Gandhi`s autograph.
His great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, grandmother Indira Gandhi and father Rajiv Gandhi -- all of whom served as India`s prime minister and also discharged their duties as the central university`s chancellor -- were great draws among students, teachers and other staff during frequent visits to Santiniketan.
Besides a 40-minute interaction with students, Rahul Gandhi is slated to inaugurate an exhibition - "Three Chancellors - Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi".
Particularly, Rajiv Gandhi`s lively interactions and the great rapport with students is still talked about in glowing terms by old-timers.
However, Rahul Gandhi`s visit also triggered a controversy with West Bengal`s ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist students` arm, Student Federation of India (SFI), questioning the disruption of studies and "unnecessary importance" given to the young leader who, it said, had no "locus standii" as far as the university was concerned.
"Who is Rahul Gandhi? How is he related to the university? He does not hold any post in the university or in the government. He is a mere MP," said SFI district secretary Debarshi Dutta.
"Why should the university ask him to open an exhibition? Why should he be given so much importance?" Dutta asked.
Some rare pictures, and letters are being displayed at the exhibition.
Rahul Gandhi will be in the state for three days to mobilise Congress workers ahead of next year`s assembly polls.