Keeping secularism at bay in the poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, Congress has started exhibiting a saffron streak to counter BJP, and to woo Hindu voters.
Congress is not only making promises to protect cows and develop the state as a religious hub, but has also been projecting party President Rahul Gandhi as a devotee of Hindu lords Ram, Shiv and river-goddess Narmada. He has been paying visit to almost every prominent temple in the state as part of the election campaign.
Gandhi’s official campaign started from Kamtanath temple in Chitrakoot, where it is believed that Lord Ram spent 11 of his 14 years in exile. A Congress delegation under Harishankar Shukla, along with sadhus, is presently tracking the route Ram had taken – from Chitrakoot to Amarkantak – according to the Hindu mythology. On his way, Gandhi is likely to visit a dozen more famous temples.
Gandhi was projected as a devotee of Shiva in Bhopal where several posters with a picture of Rahul Gandhi pouring milk on a shivling (Shiva’s phallus – a symbol worshipped by Hindus) were hanged across the city. During his visit to Rewa and Chitrakoot, he was projected as a devotee of Ram; while on October 6, he was projected as a devotee of Narmada, during visit to Jabalpur. His name is written as ‘Pandit Rahul Gandhi’ – just like his great-grandfather Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru – on several posters put up by the party.
Gandhi has also been criticising the ruling BJP simultaneously for its Hindutva agenda and its failure as a government, both at the Centre as well as in the state. During public rallies, he is seen attacking the governments on a slew of issues like Rafale, demonetisation, GST (which he termed as Gabbar Singh Tax), unemployment, Bank defaulters like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Vyapam scam, farmers’ ordeal and so on.
He also mocked Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and called him a ‘Ghoshnaveer’ for making 21,000 announcement with least implementation.
In tribal-dominated areas, Congress president promised implementation of Tribal Act 2006 and passage of Land Acquisition Bill. In Rewa and Chitrakoot, where unemployment and development are major issues, he has been promising to set up factories, while in farmer-dominated areas, he assured loan waiver within 10 days of coming to power, irrespective of what economists say.
Earlier, Congress had promised cow protection by opening a cowshed in every panchayat of the state. Later, the party also announced its plan to conduct Ram Van Gaman Path Yatra — retracing Lord Ram’s exile in MP – and develop the state as a religious hub.
Ram Van Gaman Path was a brainchild of Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government, which had promised to develop this route in its 2008 election manifesto. However, even after a decade, as per the government, the project is still in its initial stage.
A media report had earlier showed an allocation of Rs 1000 for the Ram Van Gaman Path in the annual budget by the state government. Following this embarrassment, the state government had approved Rs 100 crore for the project in a haste.
State Congress president Kamal Nath said, “BJP uses religion only for political gains, but Congress will truly turn the state into a religious tourism hub.”
Senior Congress spokesperson, Pankaj Chaturvedi said, “Taking lead from Karnataka and Gujarat campaign model, the party is following it.”
Moreover, a senior state Congress leader said, “In the last five years, Rahul Gandhi has cracked the answer to counter BJP in its own language. He is actively countering BJP’s Hindutva agenda with more Hindutva. No one can now say he is anti-Hindu. He is strategically attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi, not only on issues of corruption, inflation and unemployment, but also on Hindutva.”
BJP national Vice President Prabhat Jha believes that the BJP will remain unaffected by Congress’s saffronisation. Taking a swipe at Gandhi, he said, “It is to BJP’s credit that Rahul Gandhi has turned a Hindu. He knows now that without support of the majority community, Congress cannot win elections. This is not a threat for us, we are amused. Where is secularism of Congress now? Why has that taken a back seat?”
He also advised Congress to “do some homework on Hinduism before taking it up”.
“In Jabalpur, the AICC president was participating in Narmada aarti in the afternoon. Congress should have known that aarti is done after sunset. We may not see God everywhere, but the Almighty is omnipresent. Maa Narmada knows that this was Congress’s chunavi aarti (electoral aarti),” said Jha.