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Sumeet Kaul | Times Now | New Delhi | Sept 13, 2018:: Faced with an existential challenge after its worst-ever performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress has slowly adopted what can be called a ‘soft Hindutva’ approach to broaden its appeal among a section of Hindu voters.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s recent, much-publicised trip to Kailash Mansarovar was only the latest example of the party making overt efforts to boost its Hindu credentials in the eyes of voters.
Now with elections in five states and the Lok Sabha polls looming, this strategy has been put in a higher gear. Madhya Pradesh, where the incumbent BJP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is still popular among many voters, is arguably the ground zero of the principal Opposition party’s Hindutva lite plan.
The strategy that shall not be named
During an interaction with editors in Hyderabad in August, Congress president Rahul Gandhi denied reports that his party was adopting a soft Hindutva approach. “I don’t believe in any kind of Hindutva, soft or hardcore,” he was quoted as saying. He added that there was no harm in visiting religious places and meeting religious leaders.
Congress leaders have been at pains to deny reports of any religious outreach through Hindutva. Ironically, however, the clearest hint of the party’s thinking came from former party president and Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi.
Speaking in March at an event in Mumbai, the UPA chairperson said: “The BJP has managed to — I don’t say brainwash because that is a rude word — but it has managed to convince people, to persuade people that the Congress party is a Muslim party.”
Putting it into practice
During the Gujarat election campaign in 2017, Rahul Gandhi visited several temples, including the famous Somnath temple. He also declared that he and his family had always been “Shiv bhakts”. To buttress Gandhi’s Hindu credentials, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said that the then party vice-president was a “janeu-dhari Hindu (one who wears the sacred thread)”.
Fast forward to the 2018 Karnataka assembly election campaign, and Rahul Gandhi continued his temple run, adding the famous mutts in the state to his itinerary (Congress leaders on their part stress that Gandhi visits religious places even in the non-election season). These included Saundatti Yallamma temple, Gokharnath temple, Sringeri Sharada Peeth and Chamundeshwari temple.
Reducing election results to any one factor is a futile exercise, but the fact that the Congress made gains in Gujarat and was able to prevent the BJP from getting a majority in Karnataka might have convinced the Grand Old Party’s strategists that the temple hopping was paying dividends.
Playing the soft Hindutva card in MP
The battle for Madhya Pradesh is a critical test for the Congress ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and the party has unabashedly embraced a lighter shade of Hindutva in its poll campaign. The party has proposed to carry out a “Ram Van Gaman Path Yatra” to retrace the mythical journey of Lord Ram during his exile. The BJP had earlier promised to develop this religious route, but failed to do so. Borrowing a page from the saffron party, the Congress-led yatra will include holy men seated in an open chariot.
Meanwhile, the party’s MP unit has declared in a social media ad featuring senior party leader Kamal Nath that if voted to power, a Congress government will construct more than 23,000 gaushalas (cow shelters) in the state.
There is little doubt that the Congress president will hit the temple trail in Madhya Pradesh soon enough. Looking ahead to 2019, the party appears to be confident about its Hindutva lite tactic, and is likely to ignore Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s jibe at the opposition party. “The BJP has always been seen as a pro-Hindutva party,” the senior BJP leader had said in December 2017. “So if an original is available, why would the people pick a clone?”
Courtesy: Times Now.
Important Note: Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Hindu Existence Website or of its editor Upananda Brahmachari.