Rahul Gandhi will embark on a three-day tour of Saurashtra starting September 25 during which he is expected to visit various temples in the state.
ABDUL HAFIZ LAKHANI | Caravan Daily
AHMEDABAD — Gujarat unit of the Congress is going all out to turn tables in the ensuing state Assembly election, which may be held in December. Now, it seems that the party will use soft Hindutva as a card in the election.
After staying out of power for over two decades, the question is: Is the Gujarat Congress succumbing to the Hindutva agenda – albeit softly? Congress vice-president, Rahul Gandhi will embark on a three-day tour of Saurashtra starting September 25. He will begin his journey from Dwarka and move to Jamnagar. The next day, Rahul Gandhi will tour Rajkot and the surrounding towns, participate in a garba, proceed to Surendranagar, then visit a Koli temple in Chotila and from Viramgam visit Ahmedabad. Sources in the Congress see this as a soft Hindutva approach, wherein they are able to unite the electorate on this agenda, without whipping up a divisive communal fervour.
Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Shankersinh Vaghela, former leader of the Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly, will both visit Rajkot on next Tuesday, as political parties look to ramp up support of the voters. The focus appears to be on Saurashtra as — in addition to Gandhi and Vaghela — Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley are also expected to visit Rajkot in the coming weeks.
Modi is expected to visit Porbandar, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti on October 2. He is also expected to be present for a public dedication programme for a new airport being built at Hirasar near Rajkot, which is the hometown and constituency of Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.
The Center has sanctioned Rs 2,500 crore for the new airport — the first international airport in the Saurashtra region — which is coming up on 1,025 hectares of land and is about 15km away from Rajkot. Jaitley and Rupani will be in Rajkot on October 9, for a Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana event.
This is the first time Rahul Gandhi will visit so many temples. He is following the agenda recommended by local Congress leaders. However, keeping in mind the significance of symbolism, his team is also planning to squeeze in a visit to a Muslim dargah
Dwarka, is a popular Hindu pilgrimage site. Leaders of the BJP, the party that distinctly identifies itself with the Hindutva agenda, typically chose to commence their election campaign from a Hindu pilgrimage site. “This is the first time Rahul Gandhi will visit so many temples. He is following the agenda recommended by local Congress leaders. However, keeping in mind the significance of symbolism, his team is also planning to squeeze in a visit to a Muslim dargah – either in Bhadiad or the Meera Datar Mosque Unjha, if he extends his stay,” sources said.
Congress’ Saurashtra in-charge for this election, Arjun Modhwadia refuted that the selection of these visits has any religious undertones. “Rahul Gandhi is a senior and popular leader who will tour the entire state extensively for election campaigning. He will be addressing gatherings at multiple places and also meet and encourage Congress workers,” he said.
Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki had recently raised eyebrows when he fed into the BJP’s agenda of declaring ‘gau mata’ the mother of the nation after the killing of a calf by Kerala NSUI workers created a political storm in the country.
Though, this is not the first time Rahul Gandhi is visiting a temple on his campaign tour, sources indicate the selection of Dwarka is significant. In 2009 too, he visited Ambaji temple and he repeated this when he addressed a massive rally in Mehsana in December last year. During his earlier trips, he has visited an Adivasi temple in Dediyapada. “With the unrest in the Patidar community poised to swing votes in the Congress’ favour, Saurashtra is understandably a focus area where Patel votes will be the clincher in many seats,” he added.
Political analyst Ghanshyam Shah acknowledged the symbolism of these political visits but called it unfortunate.
“This is what they did in the ’80s. Congress completely lacks imagination. By whipping up communal temper you can’t combat the BJP. Rahul Gandhi’s credibility is a serious problem. You need courage to stand up for what you are,” Shah said.
(Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior journalist based in Ahmedabad, also editor of Gujarat Siyasat)