BASTI (UP): After winding his way through Yogi Adityanath’s turf, Gorakhpur, and then Deoria, Khalilabad, Basti, Gonda and Faizabad, Rahul Gandhi is all set to touch off an inflection point in Congress politics on the banks of the Sarayu on Friday. He will become the first top party leader — after his father Rajiv Gandhi allowed the shilanyas ceremony and just about missed offering prayers two-and-a-half decades ago — to make a symbolic statement with Ayodhya.
The old formula of “soft Hindutva”, occasionally deployed by his one-time political mentor Digvijaya Singh in the 1990s, is what it will evoke ahead of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, scheduled for early 2017. The future may cite September 9, 2016, when Rahul plans to enter the Humangarhi temple in Ayodhya in a very public act, as the point when an interesting, but tricky tactical shift was made by the Congress strategist in an all-too easily communally polarised state.
Though at variance with its official secularism/pluralism, the tactic seems a natural extension of the party’s outreach to the Brahmin community. Already at his road shows and ‘khaat sammelans’, a fair sprinkling of Brahmins and Muslims has been visible. There is almost no mention of the ruling SP or the other big claimant to power, BSP — this soft evocation of Hindu piety, Congress-style, is being deployed in the hope that it will firm up its old forward-caste constituency without riling the Muslims too much.
Rahul has stuck to the party’s tried and tested “povertarian” plank which is assumed to be of universal, cross-caste relevance. The jibe at Vijay Mallya’s defaulter status and a reference to increasing rail fares hitting all non-rich classes were aimed at this non-partisan positioning.
The road shows have not yielded much to write home about otherwise. The garlanding of a Shastri statue, with Manoj Kumar’s patriotic song Rang de basanti chola and Congress ditties blaring on megaphones, was the usual sort of state atmospherics. It remains to be seen if “soft Hindutva” can revive the Congress in a state where it was wiped off nearly three decades ago.