Rahul Gandhi’s multiple visits to temples ahead of the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls are being described by his detractors as a conscious effort on his part to take a soft Hindutva approach. However, the fact is that the Congress vice president is seeking to correct the perception of his party’s pronounced tilt towards the minorities, which was one of the factors that led in 2014 to its worst defeat in a Parliamentary election.
In political terms, Rahul, who is shortly expected to take over as the organisation’s chief, is sending a signal to several of his mother’s advisers responsible for making the party deviate from its neutral religious stance by showcasing it as an outfit which favoured the Muslims and Christians, over and above, the Hindus. As is known, the Congress has been recognised for its secular credentials, which evidently got acutely affected during the last five years of the UPA rule.
Although A.K. Antony, one of the senior most leaders, who was asked to look into the causes of the 2014 defeat, did flag the pro-minority tilt factor, yet the Congress has not given up its overall obsession with pushing the Muslim-Dalit agenda. This despite knowing full-well that during elections, Muslims preferred regional players capable of beating the BJP, and it goes without saying that Mayawati continues to be the first option for the Dalits. This perhaps, is the principal reason why Kamal Nath, nine-time MP from Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh, who should have been the automatic choice for the position of the leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, was apparently overlooked; instead, Mallikarjun Kharge, whose experience of national politics is limited, was given that post.
It is obvious that Rahul Gandhi realises that he has to correct several anomalies that had crept in during his mother’s long tenure and so in order to make the party combat ready, changes in approach have to be put into action. However, there is nothing unusual about the Gandhis commencing their campaign from a temple. Indira Gandhi would always do so and in 2002, Sonia Gandhi, while spearheading the campaign in Gujarat, paid a much publicised visit to a famous temple in the state. Apparently, Rahul perhaps is trying to replicate his grandmother’s style by identifying himself with the majority community, which has found it difficult to associate itself with the present lot of Gandhis, who are perceived to be casteless in the complex social fabric of our politics.
The Congress vice president is forwarding a strong message to the Hindu community that the perception of 2014 was inaccurate, and thus he should be viewed from the same prism as his father and grandmother, so as to make a fair assessment of him. This move gains significance since it comes close on the heels of his visit to the United States, where he sought to correct certain perception issues about himself.
Interestingly, ever since Rahul’s temple visits, the BJP, has once again unleashed its covert attempts at propping itself up on the strength of its Hindutva agenda. The high profile Deepavali celebrations at Ayodhya and the sneering statements spouted by Sangeet Som, a party MLA, desecrating the Taj Mahal and its creator, were measures aimed at contrasting the saffron brigade’s shrill Hindutva pitch vis-a-vis Rahul’s comparatively soft initiative, so as to garner Hindu votes.
The entire political posturing has taken place in the backdrop of the two Assembly polls, where the Hindu card is going to be played by both the major players. Gujarat, for long, has been the laboratory for Hindutva brand of politics, though the disillusionment of the Patels with the BJP has been a cause of immense concern to the ruling dispensation. On the other hand, Himachal Pradesh, by and large, is a Hindu majority state, with people having strong and deep-rooted belief in Gods and Goddesses. Both states are crucial for the Congress and the BJP, as they would have an impact on the way politics would unfold thereafter.
Rahul is also trying to take a leaf from his father, Rajiv Gandhi’s book so far as the understanding of political reality goes. Rajiv, during his five-year tenure, enjoyed an excellent rapport with Bhaurau Deoras, the younger brother of the then RSS chief, Balasaheb Deoras, who also happened to be the interlocutor between the RSS and the BJP. The opening of the locks at the disputed structure in Ayodhya was at the instance of Rajiv Gandhi, who, prior to that, had consulted Bhaurau. It also was not a coincidence that following the shilanayas, the Congress campaign in the 1989 elections was launched by Rajiv Gandhi from Ayodhya.
While many in the Congress rank and file have welcomed the changed approach of the high command towards the majority community, Rahul Gandhi must not get into competitive Hindutva politics. He would reap greater political dividends if he makes the economic agenda of the BJP his main thrust area. The next polls in the country are likely to be fought on the state of the economy, and in his over enthusiasm to correct perception issues, Rahul should not lose sight of what is ailing the nation. Between us.