AYODHYA:The day when the Congress’ prince came to Ayodhya marked off a significant point in Uttar Pradesh’s campaign calendar with a few interesting twists. His visit to the Hanuman Garhi temple, which was widely expected to connote a return to ‘soft Hindutva’, was balanced off in the evening with a signature Congress manoeuvre, as the party’s vice-president rounded off the day by offering a chadar at a local dargah.
Beyond the optics, the day also registered the highest footfalls seen during Rahul Gandhi’s Maha Kisan Yatra. From the temple visit, through the road show and khaat sabha -- where again TV crew filmed poor locals walking away with the cots -- the roads from Faizabad, Ambedkar Nagar and elsewhere were crowded with the citizenry of the Awadh countryside homing in for the events. Almost as if he was emboldened by the sight of the crowds, Rahul also upped his rhetoric to more ambitious levels. Instead of merely using the visible levels of poverty in these parts as a weapon of critique against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he actually offered himself as an alternative. “If you vote us to power in UP and Delhi, we will see to it that all your financial troubles will be over. Sonia Gandhi and I will ensure that all your loans are waived off,” he said at his ‘Khat Sabha’. The temple itself proved to be a carefully chosen venue. An apt site for the choreographed show of piety that the party strategists had in mind -- with a historical resonance. For, Hanuman Garhi is a temple that even Indira Gandhi had visited -- the grandson was merely retracing those steps.
The elderly chief mahant, Gyan Das, in fact, remembered those visits. “When do people go to temples, mosques and churches? When they are in distress. Indira had come when she had lost power in 1977.”
The mahant turned out to be far from a Hindutva hardliner. Speaking to New Indian Express, he sounded almost like an old Congress hand. “If you are a true Hindu, you will respect all religions. That is our tradition.”
Out of earshot of party leaders, he confided that there was a difference. “Indira ek paripakv neta thhi.” (She was a mature leader.) Also, that he had met UP CM Akhilesh Yadav too - keen to show himself as without political loyalties. “He too is a good person.”
After the day’s political events, the RaGa caravan travelled some 75 km from Ayodhya’s twin city Faizabad to Kichaucha Sharif near Akbarpur, the dargah of 14th century Sufi saint Hazrat Makhdoom Sultan Syed Ashraf Jahangir Semnani. In a quiet affair, they performed the ritual offering of chadar in the presence of the chief priest Syed Moinuddin Ashraf.
For the benefit of the small gathering outside, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad emerged out and said, “There won’t be any speech. This is not political. We have only come to seek blessings...this is the Congress culture.”