After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bengaluru rally on Sunday in poll-bound Karnataka, it is now the turn of Congress President Rahul Gandhi to woo the electorate.
The upcoming four-day tour in the state’s north-west commences on February 10. Congress, incidentally holds 24 out of the 40 seats in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region.
The Congress’ decision to include the Huligemma Temple in Koppal in Rahul Gandhi’s itinerary has raised eyebrows in the state.
But it appears the Congress is emulating its Gujarat campaign, when the party was accused of playing the ‘soft Hindutva’ card to counter the BJP. In the run-up to the Assembly Elections in Gujarat, Rahul had visited the Somnath Temple among other temples, with several political observers labelling it as a softer version of Hindutva.
The Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, however, deny the charge and instead label this brand of politics as ‘Hindu with humanity’. But KPCC leaders also argue that the itinerary also includes other places of worship and will see the Congress President visit the Lingayat home of Siddeshwara Mutt in Tumakuru, Anubhava Mantapa, a 12th century Veerashaiva epicentre in Bidar and Kwav Bande Nawaz Dargah in Gulbarga.
“When we go to a place if there is a place for historical and religious significance we will invariably go there and it is nothing new. It’s the most famous place in Koppal,” KPCC General Secretary Nivedith Alva tells TNM.
He claims, “No big temple, mosque or church in this country is exclusive to any religion and our party leaders have visited them in the past decades. We as Indians are essentially secular people who go and learn from other places of worship. It's like almost everyone who visits Amritsar visits the Golden Temple. It is only the media now which tries to see a tactic in it.”
Nivedith adds, "Rahul ji is not the first of the Gandhi family to visit the temple as even Sonia Gandhi ji has visited the temple in the past," and there was nothing new in it.
Speaking to TNM, Narendar Pani, Professor of Political Science at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, says, “The point is that they are playing the middle ground and certainly letting people know that they are not anti-religion. Yes, from last time, they are taking more religious positions. This seems to work in their favour.”
Like Narendar, Muzaffar Assadi, Political Science Professor at Mysore University argues that the Congress is attempting to identifying with Hindus but not take a hardline stance like the BJP.
“Certainly, this signifies a tilt towards Hinduism. They are trying to identify with the Hindus but still not as rigid Hindutva of the BJP as their arguments still remain within their secular fabric.”
Muzzafar points out that despite the criticism from the BJP, the Congress doesn’t mind the risk as evidenced by the controversy that followed Rahul Gandhi’s Somnath Temple visit.
He notes, “The Congress is slightly cautious about resisting their image of carrying out minority appeasement.”
Echoing Muzaffar’s view, another noted political analyst Sandeep Shastri observes, “The Congress realises that it cannot allow the BJP to be the sole spokesperson of the majority community voters. The moment they remain silent, they are by default allowing space to the BJP.”
By taking the soft Hindutva approach, what the Congress is attempting is to go back to its earlier image, argues Sandeep, stating, “In a sense, the Congress is trying to go back to its earlier agenda of 'We are a party which takes care of everybody's interest including Hindus'. This certainly takes away the sting out of the BJP's apparent monopoly over the majority community.”