Is Rahul Gandhi playing a soft Hindutva card?

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Mehsana:  Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi today said he is a devotee of Lord Shiva – a revelation that brought jeers from the BJP, which is seen as being irked by his frequent temple visits. The Congress leader has visited at least half a dozen temples in the state, where assembly elections will be held next month, triggering BJP allegations that he was playing a soft Hindutva card.

Asked about the BJP’s criticism, Mr Gandhi told reporters, “I am a devotee of Lord Shiva. Let them say whatever they want to say. My truth is with me”.

The BJP was quick to retaliate. “We are not against his temple visits. We wish that everybody goes to temples and follows our tradition,” state BJP in-charge Bhupender Yadav was quoted as saying by news agency Press Trust of India. “But I want to ask… he (Gandhi) lives in Delhi and there are many temples there. Has he ever gone to any temple in Delhi? Has he visited Delhi’s Akshardham temple?”

The reference was to Mr Gandhi’s recent visit to Gandhinagar’s Akshardham temple, with which he has started the last leg of his campaign in the politically crucial north Gujarat. The temple has a huge influence on politically powerful Patidar community, which the Congress has been trying to get on its side.

In September, Mr Gandhi visited the Dwarkadhish temple in Dwarka. He has also offered prayer at the famous Ambaji temple. A few weeks ago, he climbed 1,000 steps to seek the blessings of Goddess Chamunda in Chotila. And today he visited the temples of Veer Meghmaya in Patan, Khodiyar Maa in Varana and Maa Bahuchar at Becharaji in Mehsana district.

The BJP, which has often accused the Congress of Muslim appeasement, has called his frequent temple visits an attempt to draw Hindu voters in the poll-bound state. The BJP does not have the “patent on devotion”, the Congress has shot back.

Last year, ahead of elections in Assam, Mr Gandhi claimed that he had been barred from visiting an iconic temple in Assam by workers of BJP’s ideological mentor, the RSS. The temple authorities and the RSS had rubbished the claim.

Today, Mr Gandhi picked a couplet from a song from the 1978 Bollywood film Gaman to take a swipe at the Delhi and the Central governments for failing to address the pollution that has been choking the national capital for a week.