RG's Kailash pilgrimage
Congress President Rahul Gandhi is on a 12-day long pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar and has been tweeting messages and pictures from the journey. In one of the first tweets, he shared two pictures of Lake Mansarovar and described the waters of the lake as gentle, tranquil and calm. In the second tweet, he is seen wearing winter clothes and mixing up with other pilgrims. Gandhi is travelling without his security details and is likely to walk 60 km during the journey. He had promised to pay a visit to the sacred abode of Shiva in April this year when he faced a mid-air flight scare while travelling to Karnataka for a public meeting ahead of the Assembly election in the state. Kailash Mansarovar falls in the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China and Gandhi has reached there through Nepal. BJP has reacted angrily to Gandhi's visit to a China-held territory and sought the details of his journey and meetings in China. But Gandhi who recently hugged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and winked at him during a debate on a no-confidence motion against the NDA government at the Centre is maintaining his cool. In a recent programme in the UK, he had said that responding hate with hate is foolish. Congress has been accusing the Modi government of practising the politics of hatred against certain communities. The 12-day long religious sojourn to the tranquil mountains of Kailash Mansarovar is expected to have a soothing effect on the Congress President. As the 2019 Lok Sabha elections draw closer, the verbal duel between Congress and BJP has intensified. During his week-long trip to Europe, Gandhi participated in a number of social events and also held question-answer sessions. Picking some of the difficult subjects, he articulated his stand on RSS, 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Doklam stand-off and poor employment generation by the Modi government. He attacked the Modi government for not having a well-thought-out strategy to deal with Pakistan or China on the Doklam issue. He compared RSS with Muslim Brotherhood and said that Congress was not involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. All his remarks made abroad made headlines in India and different political parties picked the issues raised by Gandhi for further debate.
It is interesting to see how Gandhi is slowly taking the centre stage of national politics after showing initial reluctance to accept responsibility. His hug-and-wink politics has mellowed down the aggression BJP had for him. After an extensive election campaigning in the Karnataka Assembly elections in May this year, Gandhi was able to turn the political equations in his party's favour by going for an alliance with JD-S to form the government. This was a major victory for the Congress, which had come a distant second in the seat tally, as it was able to keep BJP out of power in the state. The underlying theme of the Congress accepting a junior role in the government was to strengthen the opposition's campaign against BJP and the oath-taking ceremony of Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy turned out to be a mega show of opposition's unity. A host of opposition leaders from Mamata Banerjee to Mayawati graced the occasion with their presence and promised a better-coordinated opposition campaign against BJP. Now, there are Assembly elections lined up in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Manipur and Congress is eyeing to win some of these states before the campaign for Lok Sabha election starts. Congress is in talks with smaller parties in these states for strategic seat-sharing deals and the chances of the grand old party look bright in the face of anti-incumbency factor in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. But the party is likely to face a belligerent attack by BJP as the saffron party tries to retain power in the three politically-significant states. It is in this light that Gandhi has been talking about defeating the politics of hatred.
Gandhi who has often visited temples during election campaigns is working hard to be recognised as a Hindu amid accusations by BJP that he is a non-Hindu. The emergence of BJP with all its rightist ideologies on the national scene has made it impossible for Congress to overlook religious considerations while working out poll strategies. Congress has often blamed the Modi government for not doing enough for the safety and security of the minorities, Dalits and women. Gandhi's journey to Kailash Mansarovar will help establish his credentials as a Hindu leader. This will a major breakthrough for Congress, which has often been criticised for appeasement of the minority communities. By undertaking such an arduous journey, the Congress president has displayed that he lacks neither energy nor enthusiasm.