Asserting that he does not need the BJP's "certificate" to visit temples, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said on Tuesday, 30 October, he understands the Hindu religion better than the saffron party does and he is a "nationalist leader" who respects every religion.
"“I am not a ‘Hinduwadi’ leader, but a nationalist leader. I am a leader of every religion, every caste, every language and every class.”" - Rahul Gandhi
A day after the BJP's barb that Gandhi was "exhibiting fancy dress Hinduism" with his temple visits in the poll-bound Madhya Pradesh and in other states earlier, the Congress leader retorted, "Are the country's temples the sole property of the BJP and the RSS? Have only Modi and Shah got the contract to visit temples?"
Interacting with select journalists in Indore, Gandhi said the BJP remains silent whenever Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the BJP president Amit Shah visit a temple wearing clothes as per that temple's tradition.
"But when Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and I wear clothes as per the temple's tradition, it is said that we are exhibiting fancy dress Hinduism," he said.
Gandhi had started his two-day tour of Madhya Pradesh on Monday after offering prayers at Ujjain’s famous Mahakaleshwar temple.
Hours after Gandhi's temple visit, BJP spokesman Sambit Patra had alleged, "... Rahul Gandhi is exhibiting fancy dress Hinduism continuously. To mislead the Hindus, he is sporting a "janeu" (sacred thread) over the shirt. We demand that 'janeudhari' Rahul Gandhi clarify to which 'gotra' (clan) does he belong to."
Talking to journalists, Gandhi said, “If I feel like going to a temple and offering prayers to God then I will definitely visit it. I don’t need a certificate from the BJP. I understand Hindu religion better than the BJP does.”
Replying to a question, he said he visits mosques, gurudwaras, churches and other places of worship as he respects every religion.
Describing Hinduism and Hindutva as two different concepts, he said:
"“Hinduism is a liberal and progressive concept that teaches love and respect for others, while there is hatred, insecurity and anger in the foundation of the BJP’s idea of Hindutva.”"
"The BJP has ownership of Hindutva. But no one can claim sole ownership of Hinduism because it is a great concept. No one group can have a monopoly over it... We are a party which believes not in Hindutva, but in Hinduism," he said.
"When I visited temples during the Gujarat elections, the BJP went mad thinking how did I go there, although I had been to temples earlier. I had also visited Ayodhya," he said.
On a question regarding efforts to bring the issue of Ram temple into focus ahead of the upcoming polls, he said, "The Modi government has failed to fulfill the promises of ending corruption, bringing good days, providing jobs to youths and right prices to the farmers for their produce."
"This government can see only one way to save itself. But it will not be able to save itself," he said.
‘Women of All Ages Should be Allowed to Enter Sabarimala Temple’
Gandhi said women of all age groups should be allowed to enter the Sabarimala temple, a remark that was at variance with the stand taken by his party's Kerala unit and which created ripples in the southern state.
Gandhi, however, acknowledged that his opinion is different from that of his party on the "emotional issue" after the Supreme Court last month lifted the ban on entry of women of menstrual age to the hilltop shrine of Lord Ayyappa in Kerala.
Gandhi told a select group of journalists in Indore in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh:
"“It is a very emotional issue and my personal thinking on the matter is different from my party’s Kerala unit.”" - Rahul Gandhi
"My personal view point on the issue of Sabarimala temple is that men and women are equal. All women should get permission to enter into the temple. However, my party's Kerala unit's view is that it is a very emotional issue for both men and women, he said.
"Therefore, my personal opinion and my party's Kerala unit's thinking is different on the matter. My party represents the feeling of Kerala's natives on the issue," he added.
The remarks by Gandhi came on a day when hundreds of BJP workers staged a "hunger strike" in front of the state police chief's office in Thiruvananthapuram protesting the LDF government's decision to implement the Supreme Court order that allowed entry of girls and women of all age groups to the shrine and also the police crackdown on the protesters.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan welcomed Gandhi's statement and flayed the state unit saying it was 'unfortunate' that the Congress in the state was not in sync with the its national leadership on the Sabarimala issue.
“It is unfortunate that the Congress in Kerala does not have the same opinion as that of the party’s national leadership on the subject,” he said in a facebook post.
A section of Congress leaders were adopting a 'conservative' approach on the issue which would only help the BJP, the chief minister said.
(With PTI inputs)
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