Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who is being accused by his detractors of practising “soft Hindutva”, as is apparent from his newfound love for temples, is just trying to follow a “practical line of politics”, several leaders of the party claimed to The Sunday Guardian. They defined this “practical line” as “course correcting” the image of the party, which had come to be seen as “anti-Hindu” post the 2014 general election defeat. The leaders asserted that “even now Rahul was as secular as he was”. The leaders said that the party as a whole was seeing this (course correction) as a welcome move as it was widely perceived that the Congress had forgotten the “majority” Hindus in their blind love for the minorities.

According to party sources, this “wrong perception” had also emerged as one the main reasons for the party’s loss. An internal party committee headed by former Defence Minister A.K. Antony had made similar observations in its report. The committee was set up by the then Congress chief Sonia Gandhi soon after the party slumped to its worst-ever Lok Sabha tally of 44 seats in 2014.

In its findings, submitted in August 2014, the committee had noted that the party’s perceived image of minority-appeasement was a major reason for the loss. The findings of the report, as was expected, were never made public, but were shared among senior Congress leaders including Rahul Gandhi and his team.

When contacted, Antony told The Sunday Guardian that he would not like to share his views on the topic.

Other senior party leaders, however, said that it was a well thought out decision by Rahul Gandhi (to show that the party was not anti-Hindu). “We have had many Chief Ministers, and we still have many top leaders who are very religious and frequently go to temples and who, in fact, have done a lot for the temples and the Hindu community as they have done for any other religion. I would not like to single out anyone though. In every state, be it Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Delhi, Maharashtra, we have leaders who do not fear demonstrating their Hindu religious beliefs. It is just that the BJP was able to create this image that we are anti-Hindu and that image was further cemented by irresponsible statements of some of our senior leaders. Now the top leadership is trying to undo the damage that was done due to certain mindless statements in the past. Every genuine Congress worker is happy with what Rahul is doing now,” a senior party leader said.

According to him, there was a section within the old guard that was very unhappy with Rahul for practising what they have called “soft-Hindutva”, but they are sitting silently for now.

A message from the Congress leadership has been sent to the state leaders that they are not to shy away from revealing that Rahul will visit temples as he will visit mosques in their states, especially those states which are going to the polls. “Politics is a battle of perception and that is what we are doing. He may or may not be a janeu-dhaari Brahmin, but politics of the present time requires him to ‘show’ that he is not against Hindus,” a senior leader from a central state said. After his “temple-run” in Gujarat, Rahul commenced his campaigning in poll-bound Karnataka by visiting the Huligemma temple in Huligi village and Sri Gavisiddeshwar in Kopal last week.

In fact, last year, Rahul left behind Narendra Modi when it came to visiting temples. He visited close to 20 temples in Gujarat and UP. Rahul had started his Gujarat campaign in September by visiting Dwarakadhish temple. The state Congress had also started a campaign to demand strong cow protection laws for the state.

Earlier this week, two months after taking over as the Congress president, Rahul Gandhi disbanded the party’s working committee, setting the stage for putting his own team in place. In its place, the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body, has been converted into a 34-member steering committee. This steering committee, which met on Saturday, decided that the party’s plenary would be held from 16 to 18 March in New Delhi, where Rahul Gandhi’s election as party chief would be formally ratified. The last plenary of the party was held in Burari in December 2010. Rahul’s new team is expected to be announced during this Delhi plenary.

The steering committee will also oversee preparations for and draft the resolutions to be discussed and adopted at the plenary.

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