Rahul Gandhi met hundreds of striking municipal sanitation workers in Delhi on Friday, the latest in the Congress vice-president's wider efforts to revive the party's bond with sections of society that once formed its support base. The workers ended their strike later in the evening.
The Congress leader - in blue denims and white kurta -sat on the ground and listened to the grievances of the safai karmacharis who have not been paid their salaries for the past three months, in part because of the unending political recriminations between the Arvind Kejriwal's government and Delhi's Lt-Governor Najeeb Jung.
"I am here with you ... if you want me to sit with you, I will sit for an hour, two hours or 10 hours ... I have time for you," he said.
"You keep the city clean ... they (central and Delhi governments) are not bothered. If you go to the central government, it tells you to go to the Delhi government, who will again ask you to go to the central government ... these are all excuses. I am with you ... you call me and I will sit with you here even for 10-15 days."
Rahul Gandhi extends support to MCD workers in Delhi
Since his return in April from a 52-day sabbatical, Gandhi has been unsparing in his attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the NDA government over issues concerning farmers, landless labourers, netizens, middle-class home buyers, fishermen, ex-servicemen, Dalits and now sanitation workers.
These voters had shifted loyalties, handing the Congress its worst electoral defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
In the sanitation workers, Gandhi has found a handle to attack the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi, which had eaten into Congress votes in assembly elections early this year, analysts said.
His newfound assertiveness has resurrected the Congress's spirits, which had hit rock-bottom after a series of electoral setbacks. It appeared to have regained some ground at least in Parliament where its aggressive tone on issues, especially plight of farmers and the land acquisition bill, had put the BJP-led NDA government on the defensive.
The BJP, which rules Delhi's municipal corporations, described Gandhi's solidarity with the sanitation workers as grandstanding. "Rahul Gandhi has gone there to show fake concern and is indulging in politics on this matter," Delhi BJP president Satish Upadhyay said.
As Gandhi mounted pressure on the Centre and AAP-ruled Delhi government, piles of garbage littered major thoroughfares as sanitation workers refused to clear tonnes of waste the city generates every day.