New Delhi: In a marked strategic shift on the eve of elections, the Congress has apparently taken a conscious decision not to allow the Bharatiya Janata Party walk away with emotive issues. In continuation of his earlier temple visits, during the recent Assembly elections, Rahul Gandhi, accompanied by his nephew, Raihan Vadra, trekked to the Tirumala hills to offer prayers to Lord Venkateswara in Tirupati.
Simultaneously, as if to test the waters, former Uttarakhand Chief Minister, Harish Rawat, declared in Dehradun, that the Congress would do everything in its power to build the Ram temple in Ayodhya. Although some senior party leaders dismissed Rawat’s remarks as “personal”, yet they assumed significance since the construction of the Mandir has been, for several years, a major political plank.
The Congress, which lost the perception war in 2014, coming out as a party with a marked tilt towards the minorities, as pointed out by senior leader, A.K. Antony, in his report on the debacle, is certainly not in any mood to allow the BJP to cash in on its majoritarianism. A section of the party also favours that the high command should support the demand for the Ram Mandir, whose construction may have been delayed, but seems more than less inevitable. Their belief is that if the Congress is seen to be opposing the construction, the BJP would derive full advantage from the issue during the elections.
There are Congress leaders whose opinion on the face of it may appear far-fetched, but would want Rahul Gandhi to publicly announce the support for the temple. Their thesis is that since the locks of the temple were opened during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister, and he had also endorsed the shilanayas subsequently, the Congress holds the first right to commence the construction of the temple. They appear to concur with Harish Rawat, who said that while the BJP was using the matter as a “political gimmick”, the Congress alone would have the credibility if it was to come out in support of the Mandir in Ayodhya diluting the BJP’s efforts in the process. The Ram Mandir, as a political issue, has resounding appeal in the country, particularly in the Hindi belt, and in hill states like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh which are often described as “Dev Bhoomi”. This perhaps was the reason for Harish Rawat to make his statement from Dehradun.
The marked shift in Congress tactics is also palpably visible on the ground, as well as in Madhya Pradesh where the party’s government has condoned policies regarding the sanctity of the cow. There is a wide realisation in some quarters that it was paramount to thwart the BJP propaganda. It was in tune with this thinking that the Congress offered its unconditional support when the recent horrific Pulwama attack took place. Any criticism from the Congress would definitely have assisted the BJP on the eve of the elections. Therefore, senior functionaries have been extremely cautious on the Pulwama issue, and while extending their solidarity with the armed forces have been targeting the BJP and its leaders for attempting to derive political gains from the sensitive situation.
The Congress, at the same time, has declared that it would at all cost support the Prime Minister in the fight against terrorism. While meeting the families of martyred soldiers, Rahul Gandhi and his sister, Priyanka offered their heartfelt condolences by stating that they too, themselves were victims of terrorism, which had claimed two members of their family, a clear reference to Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. In order to touch a chord with the families, Rahul Gandhi on Saturday also announced, that if elected to power, the Congress government would accord martyr-status to paramilitary personnel killed in the line of duty. The declaration was aimed at putting the Central government on the defensive regarding martyr status.
The Congress is perhaps trying to portray BJP as being insensitive to the soldiers by extensively quoting the Jammu and Kashmir Governor, Satya Pal Malik regarding serious intelligence lapses. Exercising utmost caution in being critical of the policies, the Congress is extending its solidarity with the families of those who had been slain.
However, the marked departure from its earlier stand runs the risk of alienating some of its supporters amongst minority groups. The more crucial fallout of the soft Hindutva line could boomerang if the electorate in general views the Congress as the BJP’s “B” team and decides to stick to the saffron brigade.
In the meanwhile, more temple visits by senior Congress leaders would be taking place, with the grand old party resolving to keep the focus on the BJP’s five-year of governance and failed promises by not allowing it, to once again, play with the passions of the majority community.