Did Rahul Gandhi’s Gujarat trip have a tinge of soft-Hindutva?
Is the Congress adopting a soft-Hindutva approach ahead of the crucial assembly elections in Gujarat due later this year?
The question has assumed significance in the wake of Rahul Gandhi’s three-day tour to the state where he visited shrines, sported a saffron scarf, a prominent ‘tilak’ and climbed 650 steps to reach a hilltop temple. Though Congress leaders deny any change in tactics, many see Gandhi’s visit, which began on September 25, as a calculated move to counter the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) portrayal of the Congress as anti-Hindu.
In the course of his tour that began from the historic pilgrimage site of Dwarka, Gandhi came down heavily on the Gujarat government as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Central government. He tore apart the BJP over GST and its demonetisation drive of last year. But alongside, he also took care of being on the right side of Hindu sentiments.
Gandhi visited five temples during his trip and also performed aartis at two garba venues. He concluded his tour by going all the way up a hill top in Chotila to pay obeisance at the Chamunda Mata temple.
“The current generation might find this soft-Hindutva image new for the Congress, but it is not. Indira Gandhi had visited Dwarka and Ambaji temples in her lifetime,” said senior political analyst Achyut Yagnik. According to him, the Gandhi scion’s religious messaging complements his diatribe against the BJP for failings on issues like unemployment and industrial sickness. “He may find resonance this time,” Yagnik added.
Gandhi’s visit has left the state Congress leaders hopeful of a shot at ending BJP’s 22-year rule. “This was for the first time since 1991 that a senior Congress leader campaigned for this long,” said senior Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil.
Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, Rahul’s father, had camped in Gujarat for two days that year.
Looking back at Gandhi’s just concluded tour, state Congressmen are discovering many positives. They say their leader came across as approachable. He intermittently broke free of security and protocol to shake hands and hug children. Along the way, he also sat down at frequent intervals to chat with ordinary women and farmers.
State Congress leaders give credit to the planning for what they term as the tour’s grand success. Gandhi started his campaign from OBC-dominated Dwarka before winding up at Morbi and Jetpur – Patidar strongholds – via Jasdan, known to be a Koli belt.
Patidars, who have been up in arms against the BJP government over reservations, account for 70% of Gujarat’s six crore population together with OBCs and Kolis.
Looking to tap into Patidar resentment against the state government, Gandhi even donned a white cap with the slogan “Jai Sardar Jai Patidar’ emblazoned on it.
The cap has been a mascot for the followers of Hardik Patel, the leader of the Patidar agitation. “When you asked for your rights, the government gave you bullets,” Gandhi said at Dhrol to applause, referring to the 14 Patidar agitators killed in police firing in 2015.
The BJP, however, is pretending to be nonplussed. “He (Gandhi) did not even know how to do aarti,” said BJP president Jitu Vaghani.
Political commentator Yagnik though felt Gandhi might reap some political capital this time. “Older generations might still vote for the BJP, but their grandchildren – unemployed and angry – could like to try out the Congress,” he said, suggesting that the battle for Gujarat has truly begun.