Ahead of the Congress’ plenary session scheduled to begin here on Friday, 16 March, many senior leaders in the party are voicing concerns over Rahul Gandhi’s “soft Hindutva” strategy, which they believe may prove counter-productive to the Congress’ prospects in a number of states in next year’s general elections, sources told The Sunday Guardian. Sources said that these concerns are likely to be raised during the plenary.

A source in the AICC said that several senior leaders, in charge of major states, have been upset with Rahul Gandhi’s “temple run”, a term coined in the media to describe the Congress president’s recent spurt of temple visits, apparently orchestrated to dilute perceptions of the Congress being “anti-Hindu”. The source quoted said that the strategy might prove self-inflicting in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, poll-bound Karnataka, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Telangana and Maharashtra among others, as per the assessment made by these leaders.

These leaders do not attribute the Congress’ improved performance in Gujarat to Rahul Gandhi’s “soft-Hindutva” electioneering. According to them, it was over two decades of anti-incumbency against the BJP that helped the Grand Old Party finish neck-and-neck with it in that state. 

These senior leaders are apprehensive that in states where the contest is multi-polar, the minorities will root for a third, non-BJP, non-Congress option, if Rahul Gandhi continues with his apparent pro-Hindu overtures.

“In Gujarat, the minority vote did not split because the confrontation was largely between the BJP and the Congress, but some leaders have been raising concerns that in states like Maharashtra, where Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM did surprisingly well in last year’s civic polls, the soft-Hindutva policy will only decimate the minority votes that had been coming to the Congress,” a source told this newspaper.

As per these senior Congress leaders, a soft-Hindutva policy will ruin the Congress and its ally RJD’s prospects in Bihar, an electorally significant state, and instead allow Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to woo back the minorities, who have been sceptical of him ever since he joined hands with the BJP. Similarly, in Telangana, where the Congress hopes to improve its tally, Rahul’s strategy will further push the Muslim electorate towards Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, who has been working for more quotas for the community. 

A source in the All India Congress Committee said that a very senior leader from Gujarat, who is also a close confidant of Sonia Gandhi, made a representation to the former party president last week, and apprised her of the concerns many in the party have against Rahul’s election strategy. The concerns were also shared with Rahul Gandhi. The source did not confirm what the response of the mother and son in the matter was, but said following the poll debacle in three northeastern states, these leaders, who have been until now only murmuring their concerns, are likely to raise them in the plenary.