'Having long portrayed Rahul as being out of touch, the BJP was suddenly confronted with a spectacle of humbleness and concern for the downtrodden,' observes Amulya Ganguli.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
Twice in the recent past, the BJP has found itself being wrong-footed.
For a canny, street-smart party, such lapses are unusual.
If anything, they show that it is losing its touch, perhaps because of its long stint in the giddy heights of power.
On the first occasion when the BJP was put on the defensive was when the Congress offered to bear the train fares of the migrant labourers travelling back to their villages.
Earlier, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy had said that it was 'moronic' of the government to charge fares from them.
The second time was when Rahul Gandhi was pictured sitting on a pavement, talking to a group of migrants.
It was a Haroun al-Rashid moment of a privileged person closely interacting with the unwashed masses.
Except that unlike the medieval potentate, the Congress's shahzada was not in disguise.
For the BJP, this was the unkindest cut of all.
Having long portrayed Rahul as being out of touch with the hoi polloi, for having been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, the BJP was suddenly confronted with a spectacle of humbleness and concern for the downtrodden which was at variance with its longstanding objective of portraying the former Congress president as a dilletante.
Nirmala Sitharaman's ire, therefore, is understandable.
She instinctively realised that the BJP would be hard put to replicate Rahul's gesture.
None of its partymen, who are currently full of themselves in the belief enunciated by Amit Anilchandra Shah that they are going to rule from panchayats to parliament for the next half a century, will be willing to sit down on a pavement to talk to the down-and-out.
Not surprisingly, Rahul's unpretentious act has been derided as a 'staged' photo-op.
In a way, it might have been.
After all, he did go to meet the migrants accompanied by cameramen who later prepared a documentary on the tete-a-tete.
But, politics after all does comprise photo-ops, whether it is declaiming at a public rally or on television.
This is the reason why virtually all politicians, in fact all public personalities, whether a film star or a sportsperson, spend their lives in front of cameras, either willingly or inadvertently as when the paparazzi try to catch them in their unguarded moments.
It is besides the point, therefore, to accuse Rahul of publicising the event.
What matters is his intention.
Even if it is conceded that he was trying to buttress his party's position among the migrants and to impress the people at large by reaching out to those in dire straits, at least his 'drama-baazi', to quote the finance minister, could not but have served the purpose of highlighting the plight of the labourers who have been left high and dry by the government's sudden call for a lockdown.
The same purpose of drawing attention to their miseries is also being served by the videos of their long treks on highways or on trucks and in trains.
Some of the videos are accompanied by mournful songs and sarcastic comments on the high and mighty which can also have a dramatic impact on the viewers.
Perhaps the real drama of Rahul's act was to demonstrate a hitherto hidden side of his character -- his sense of compassion.
It is not something which can be easily feigned.
As a result, it is hard to imagine any one of the top honchos of the BJP squatting on a footpath with those whose ordinariness can be gleaned from their clothes.
No matter how irate are the BJP and its 'undeclared' spokespersons like the BSP's Mayawati (as the Congress has dubbed her), there is little doubt that Rahul has stolen a march over them.
Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs
Production: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com