Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s temple-visiting spree in Gujarat ahead of the Assembly elections in the state has been met with a lot of harsh criticism, particularly from the BJP and AAP leaders.
The Nehru-Gandhi scion's opponents seem worried that his temple tours may end up splitting the Hindu votes. However, that seems unlikely.
It is not the first state where the Congress leader has gone on a temple-visiting spree. He did so in Uttar Pradesh too in the run-up to Assembly polls earlier this year, but without any success.
And not just temples - he has visited dargahs, churches and gurdwaras in Goa and Punjab besides Uttar Pradesh. Despite all that, the Congress failed to get a majority in Goa.
In Punjab, the Congress came to power riding on a strong 10-year anti-incumbency wave against the Parkash Singh Badal government, and pro-Amarinder Singh sentiments.
Also, it cannot be overlooked that Rahul Gandhi’s rivals too visit religious places. But that does not necessarily translate into votes.
For instance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made quite a few gurdwara visits in Punjab ahead of the state polls. But the BJP came a poor fourth, after Congress, AAP and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
The Congress vice-president embarked on a three-day yatra in Gujarat on September 25, by seeking the blessings of Lord Krishna at Dwarkadhish Temple.
It was seen as an attempt to woo the Hindus by launching his yatra from the ancient temple in Dwarka.
Began the three day Navsarjan Yatra in Gujarat with darshan at Dwarkadhish Temple pic.twitter.com/PkFz0s3Z7v— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) September 25, 2017
Since then, he has visited a dozen temples and faced serious flak from all quarters.
While Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath called it “hypocrisy and sham”, AAP leader Ashutosh has dubbed it as “bankruptcy of ideas”.
However, Gujarat is not the first state the Congress vice-president has made religious pilgrimages to.
Last year on September 6, Rahul Gandhi had launched the UP poll campaign by visiting the Dugdheshwar Nath in Deoria and getting his forehead smeared with "tilak".
Three days later, on September 9, he visited Ayodhya - the first visit to the UP temple town by a member of the Congress first family since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992.
Rahul also visited the Hanuman Garhi temple, where he offered prayers and met top priest mahant Gyan Das. He then held a short closed-door meeting with the mahant and members of the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad (All India Akhara Council), the apex organisation of Hindu ascetics.
Incidentally, Rahul’s father and former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, too had planned to offer prayers at the Hanuman Garhi temple when he had visited Ayodhya in 1990. But he could not. The former prime minister was assassinated the next year.
Coming back to Rahul Gandhi, during his month-long "Kisan Yatra" and "Khat Sabha" in the state, the Congress vice-president had visited at least a dozen temples besides frequenting religious places of the Muslims and the Sikhs. On September 28 last year, he began his yatra from Bareilly.
He had offered a chadar at Dargah-e-Ala Hazrat, paid obeisance at Dhopeshwar Nath Mandir and prayed at the Punjabi Satsang Sabha Gurdwara - all in a single day and at one place.
Interestingly, despite Rahul’s numerous visits to temples, gurdwaras and dargahs, the Congress suffered a humiliating defeat in Uttar Pradesh. In the 403-member Assembly, the party stood fifth by winning just seven seats as against BJP's 312, Samajwadi Party's 47, BSP's 19 and Apna Dal (Sonelal)'s nine seats.
In the run-up to the Goa Assembly elections too, results of which were announced along with those of UP, Rahul Gandhi was seen making church visits. Christians comprise 25 per cent of the population in the state and play a decisive role in the state politics.
On December 16 last year, the Congress vice-president conducted a "padyatra" from the Holy Spirit Church to Fatorda stadium.
However, this did not help the Congress win a majority in the coastal state. The party won 16 seats in the 40-member Assembly with the ruling BJP ending up closely behind with 14 seats.
However, the BJP managed to checkmate the Congress and went on to form the government with support from smaller parties.
PM Modi's gurdwara visits in Punjab
But why just blame Rahul Gandhi? Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been seen visiting temples and gurdwaras in poll-bound states, or even otherwise. But these visits have not necessarily handed over victory to his party every time.
For example, the prime minister visited at least two gurdwaras ahead of the Assembly elections in Punjab. Sikhs comprise about 58 per cent of the population in Punjab.
Modi offered prayers at Gurdwara Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib in Anandpur on November 25 last year. He even sported a saffron headgear and was presented a "siropa" (robe of honour) by the Sikh priests at the second holiest of Sikh shrines after Amritsar's Golden Temple.
On December 4 last year, Modi made a surprise visit to the Golden Temple. He even served food there and bowed five times before the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Holy book. There too he was honoured with a siropa.
The PM took a round (sarovar parikrama) of the historic gurdwara, covering about a kilometre-and-a-half in about 10 minutes.
However, when the Punjab election results were declared on March 11, the BJP, which was ruling as a junior ally of the SAD, fared miserably by coming fourth.
In the 117-member Assembly, the BJP managed to win just three seats as against Congress's 77, AAP's 20 and SAD's 15.
BJP's toughest battle ever
The BJP is fighting its toughest Assembly election in Gujarat in several decades. The party is facing anti-incumbency for the first time in 22 years of its uninterrupted rule in the state.
It is also beset with a strong challenge from three youth leaders – Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti convener Hardik Patel, OBC activist Alpesh Thakor and Dalit rights campaigner Jignesh Mevani. On top of it, Rahul Gandhi has launched an unprecedented offensive against the saffron party.
Despite all that, the BJP is confident of winning 150 seats in the 182-member Assembly. Even if the development agenda or caste combination may not work in its favour, the one factor which will see the party emerging victorious is "Brand Modi".
Modi’s “Hu Vikas Chhu, Hu Chhu Gujarat” (I am development, I am Gujarat) has the magic to reassure the Gujaratis "Main hoon na".
Do political pilgrimages really matter?
As far as visits to temples, gurdwaras, dargahs and churches by Rahul Gandhi, PM Modi or any other leaders are concerned, they do not play a decisive role in helping a party win or lose elections.
The voters are not naive. For them existential issues matter more than the religious and spiritual invocations.
Rahul Gandhi’s rivals are simply wasting their time and energy by losing sleep over his temple visits in Gujarat.