With the temple hopping undertaken by Congress national president Rahul Gandhi perceived as having helped the party improve its tally in the Gujarat Assembly, the Karnataka unit of the party seems to be looking to take a similar approach ahead of the 2018 Assembly elections.
According to sources, Mr. Gandhi is expected to kick off a poll campaign in the State from Chikkamagaluru by visiting Sringeri Sharada Peetham, one of the four mutts established by Adi Shankaracharya.
The mood is evident in recent statements made by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and other Congress leaders. While carefully preserving an overarching secular tone, Mr. Siddaramaiah recently took on the Bharatiya Janata Party on its Hindutva plank and asserted that he, too, was a Hindu. “I am also a Hindu. What is my name? It is Sidda-Rama. I am also 100% Hindu,” he said.
When Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath accused the Congress of turning Karnataka into a land of “Tipu worshippers”, Mr. Siddaramaiah retorted by saying that Karnataka reveres many seers and leaders. As he illustrated this, he did not fail to recall the names of several Hindu saints, cutting across caste lines.
He also slammed the BJP for its hardline Hindutva ideology in a tweet: “Are BJP leaders the only Hindus? Are we not Hindus, too?... Has the BJP taken up a contract for Hindutva? We’re also Hindus, but we respect all religions. That’s our culture and that’s true Hindutva.”
Political observers say the Congress has been “softening” its stance on Hindutva ever since its drubbing in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The party opened what some have called a “pro-Hindutva” stance after senior leader A.K. Antony cautioned it that its “politics of appeasement” to minority communities had led people to doubt its secularism.
A committee headed by Mr. Antony, which probed the reasons for the 2014 poll debacle, found that fighting the elections on a “secularism-versus-communalism” plank had hurt the Congress, which was identified as pro-minority, and resulted in substantial gains for the BJP.
In Gujarat, Mr. Gandhi visited 27 temples during his election campaign, and the Congress won 18 seats in these constituencies. In fact, Mr. Gandhi returned to visit Somnath temple in that State last weekend after the declaration of results.
What kind of ‘bhakt’?
Meanwhile, commenting on the “I am a Shiv bhakt” statement of Mr. Gandhi a day after visiting Somnath temple, a Lingyat leader in Karnataka who has been demanding separate religion tag for Lingayats said, “We will welcome him if he makes a statement that he is a ‘Bhakt of Shiva Ling’ during the poll campaign in Karnataka!”
However, a senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader contended that visiting temples alone would not be suffice. “The Congress has to demonstrate its so-called ‘Hindutva approach’ in policies by stopping politics of appeasement.... Visiting temples will not fetch votes. If that was the case, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda of the JD(S) should be winning hands down as he visits temples more often than any other leader,” he said.