Will temple-hopping pay off?
Everybody likes to see Congress President Rahul Gandhi in action. Political analysts have been pointing out that he does not take his position as the chief of the country's one of the most powerful political parties seriously. That he lacks the killer instinct and refuses to call out the government on its failure has often been mentioned as an example of his non-serious approach. The dwindling fortunes of Congress that have been voted out from the majority of the states were attributed to his reluctance to accept responsibilities on a serious note. A leading editor once wrote: One can take out Rahul from Pappu but not Pappu from Rahul. That was in the aftermath of his famous hug and wink episode in Parliament during a no-confidence motion against the Narendra Modi government. As the electoral battle intensifies in the face of crucial Assembly elections in four states before the end of the year and the Lok Sabha election mid-next year, Rahul Gandhi's movements have come under even greater scrutiny. The same lot of political analysts, who had written him off a few years ago as a simpleton unfit for politics, are now giving Rahul Gandhi the credit for pursuing the Rafale deal controversy and persisting with it till it became a national issue. They say Rahul now understands the value of consistency in politics.
Another notable change that one can notice in Rahul Gandhi is that he has started visiting temples more frequently than before. Visiting temples during an election campaign has never been part of the Congress culture but that is in for a change, with Rahul Gandhi himself paying his respects to Hindu gods by visiting important temples en route his campaign itinerary. Initially, his opponents termed this as an example of opportunistic politics where he is trying to woo Hindu voters by visiting temples during his election campaigns. But as he persisted with temple hopping, starting from UP elections in 2017 and continuing through the Gujarat and Karnataka elections, political analysts are now wondering if this will benefit the party or boomerang on it. Traditionally, Congress never had to work for votes from the Hindus, it was taken for granted. It is this neglect of the Hindu votes that cost Congress dearly in recent elections where people voted for BJP that made no bones about its affinity to the Hindus. In the name of secularism, Congress alienated the largest block of votes across the country and ended up paying a heavy price for this. Opposition leaders often raised the issue of Gandhi family' religion and its influence on the Congress party. They would also raise the issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin. The cumulative effect of all this diatribe was that people who traditionally voted for Congress began to look for alternatives. Rahul Gandhi's latest fad of visiting temples during election campaigns may be a calculated strategy to show that he is not afraid of showing which faith or religion he belongs to. Curiously, much like BJP leaders such as Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath who refuse to wear skull caps during their visit to Muslim religious places, Rahul too does not like to don the skull cap offered at similar places and events.
The Hindu backlash against Congress was triggered by a phenomenon called Muslim appeasement that was popularised by RSS and BJP through sustained campaigns over the decades. Their persistence finally paid off and the saffron brigade went on to take control of governments in the states one after the other. At the turn of the millennium, India finally had a BJP leader heading the Central government. In 2014 general elections, BJP won a majority in the lower house of Parliament on its own. BJP's success in removing Congress from power has many lessons for the grand old party and Rahul is perhaps following them in his own somewhat non-serious way. Persisting with Rafale reminds one of the Bofors scandals when the opposition raised the issue with a vengeance and succeeded in discrediting the Rajiv Gandhi regime. Rahul's frequent visits to temples show how he has come to realise the mistake that Congress made in the past.
As the electoral process gets underway for the upcoming Assembly elections in BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, Rahul Gandhi is once again making news for visiting temples in these states. The question, however, remains, to what extent this public display of reverence for Hindu deities would help him in the forthcoming elections. Rahul had once pronounced that he is a Shiv Bhakt and perhaps to drive the point home he also undertook an arduous trek to Kailash Mansarovar recently. Congress workers are projecting him as a staunch Shiv Bhakt in a big way. Will this affinity to Hinduism cost the party votes from other faiths?