In the run-up to the Gujarat Assembly elections, Congress president Rahul Gandhi had visited about 25 temples in the state in a bid to dispel the impression of his party being inimical to Hindu interests. With the Congress improving its tally in the state, Rahul appears set to repeat the strategy in Karnataka. According to a report in The Indian Express, he is slated to visit a Hindu temple, two religious centres of the Lingayat community and a dargah in the next week.
Clearly, with the election in Karnataka expected to be held in May, Rahul wants to be seen in the public eye as worshipping at prominent religious places.
According to a Financial Express report, Rahul will start off by visiting the Huligamma temple in Koppal district. Subsequently, he is slated to visit the Gavisiddeshwara Mutt, which is an important place of worship for the Lingayats. He is also expected to pay a visit to the Khwaja Bande Nawaz Dargah in the district of Gulbarga.
The managing trustee of a prominent temple in the state, the Agnidurga Gopalakrishna Temple near Mangaluru, said that arrangements would be made for his visit and even a special puja can also be organised if he decides to go there, as per a report in Business Standard.
The Congress chief's proposed stopover at a Lingayat temple assumes particular significance as the community has largely supported the BJP. Further, the saffron party's chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa is a Lingayat. Rahul's visit to the Gavisiddeshwara Mutt is thus an indication that he is taking the fight to the rival camp.
While the Congress president had not visited any Muslim places of religious significance during the Gujarat campaign, he plans to do so in Karnataka. The latter state has a Muslim population of about 12.92 percent.
The local party leadership has sought to downplay the issue of Rahul's temple visits, saying that there is nothing new in visits by the Gandhi family to temples in Karnataka. In a recent statement to the media, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president G Parameshwara said, "Indiraji (Indira Gandhi) and Rajivji (Rajiv Gandhi) used to visit Sringeri swami.. Indiraji also visited many temples in Karnataka... There is no change in our and Rahulji's strategy."
Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor has also recently backed Rahul's visits to temples, contending that they come in a context where the BJP is saying that they are the "good Hindus" and everybody else is bad. "Why should we cede this narrative to them? To my mind, we may as well show publicly what we have been doing privately."
However, much like the recent Gujarat Assembly election, religious symbolism is likely to be a recurring theme in the political campaign in the southern state. The ruling Congress has already been under attack over allegations of appeasing the minority community. The Bharatiya Janata Party has slammed it for a circular which seeks the opinion of police authorities on dropping cases of communal violence against members of minority communities. Following the criticism, the government modified the circular, replacing the words 'all innocent minorities' with 'innocent people' and claimed that the former phrase was brought in by oversight.
Last month, Uttar Pradesh chief minister and BJP leader Yogi Adityanath questioned why his Karnataka counterpart Siddaramaiah "endorses eating beef" despite claiming to be a Hindu. Siddaramaiah, on his part, had said, "I am also a Hindu, but I'm a Hindu with humanity, they (BJP) are Hindus without humanity."
With inputs from PTI View More