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Rahul Gandhi’s temple run is an exercise in image makeover

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By: Pramod Kumar Singh
Updated: November 26, 2022 21:15
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Rahul Gandhi’s “Bharat Jodo Yatra” is an interesting case study in the contemporary politics. It has been very well curated and lots of thinking has gone behind this whole exercise aimed at catapulting the Gandhi scion to the centre stage of the national politics and pose a formidable challenge to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2024. 

This yatra should also be seen as an image makeover of the MP from Wayanad into a serious politician who has been battling with the tag of being a non-serious one. Many a times he was out of the country when his own party and the opposition needed him to oppose the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre.

Analysis of the route and the optics dished out by the social media wing of Congress, is getting lot of traction online. His images of walking in tandem with a young girl wearing ‘Hijab’ had triggered intense debate about Hijab being central to young Muslim girls. It was a subtle message to the young girls of Karnataka who had moved Karnataka High Court to allow them to wear Hijab in schools and colleges. Don’t forget Karnataka will be going to polls in 2023.

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Former Congress president visited Suttur mutt on the 26th day of his yatra and met the seer Sri Shivaratri Deshikendra Swamiji. He then visited a Masjid-e-Azam in Mysore and had paid visit to St Philomena church in Dakshin Kannada district on the fourth day of the Karnataka leg of his yatra. He also paid obeisance at Srikanteshwara Swamy Temple, Nanjangud, Karnataka. Before this. Rahul Gandhi had also visited the Chamundeshwari temple atop Chamundi hills on the third day of Bharat Jodo Yatra in Karnataka. There is a method behind his visits to temples and mutts in Karnataka where seers wield enormous influence upon the devotees.

Rahul Gandhi’s entry into the Hindi heartland has been quite dramatic with his image of performing aarti while sporting a shawl with ‘Aum’ written all over at Omkareshwar temple (one of the 12 Jyotirlingas). We may see memes on the social media of Gandhi sitting inside the sanctum sanctorum of the Shiva temple on the banks of holy Narmada River.

His next stop in Madhya Pradesh is to attend Shiv Mahapurana katha by Pandit Pradeep Mishra and a cultural programme in the Nehru stadium before entering the Ujjain district. In Ujjain, he is slated to pay a courtesy visit to Jain Swami Prayagji Maharaj and offers prayers at the Mahakaleshwar temple (Jyotirlinga of Lord Shiva) and also plant saplings in the temple premises before heading to Malwa district and to enter into Rajasthan.

Gandhi’s temple hopping is nothing new as he has been consistently trying to shake off his image after his decision to contest from Muslim dominated Wayanad Lok Sabha seat in Kerala in 2019 General Elections. Comprehensive defeats of Congress party in successive assembly and national elections especially in politically important Uttar Pradesh and Bihar has forced Congress managers to launch image makeover of Rahul Gandhi and carefully created optics during his Bharat Jodo Yatra are aimed at re-inventing his political image and influencing voters especially the younger generation and women.

Not a day passes without Gandhi walking hand in hand with younger women and children and his photos being splashed all over. His critics may scoff at him but he appears to create a space for him and his party.

If we analyse his 2017 campaign during Gujarat assembly elections, Rahul Gandhi had visited 27 temples across Gujarat in the face of accusations that he was projecting soft-Hindutva.

In 2017, Rahul Gandhi had kicked off his poll campaign with a visit to the Dwarkadish temple in Dwarka. His party had lost badly to the BJP’s seasoned campaigner Pabubha Manek in Dwarka. Manek was seeking his 7th consecutive term in the assembly. 

However, his visits to temple towns brought cheers to Congress as it won 18 such constituencies. He in a way helped his party in wresting 12 seats from the ruling BJP. Out of the 18 seats Congress had won in 2017, BJP had won 10 in 2012.

In 2017, the temples which Rahul Gandhi visited and the seats on which Congress registered victories are: Ambaji temple (Danta), Bahuchraji Mata temple (Bechraji), Chamunda Mata temple (Chotila), Swaminarayan temple (Gadhada), Akshardham temple (North Gandhinagar), Vir Maya Mandir (Patan), Somnath, Umiya Mata temple (Unjha), Shamlaji temple (Bhiloda), Ranchhodrai temple at Dakor (Thasra), Kabir Mandir (Dahod), Ranchhodrai temple (Petlad), Unai Mata temple (Vansda), Bhathiji Maharaj temple at Phagvel (Kapadvanj), Khodiyar Mata temple and Sadaram Bapa temple (Radhanpur), Dev Mogra Mata temple (Dediapada), and Valinath temple (Vav).

Having taken a leaf from its 2017 book, the managers of Congress have planned routes of Bharat Jodo Yatra in such a way that Rahul Gandhi does not miss even a single important Hindu temple. We may see more such temple runs on the lines of Gujarat 2017 in the days to come. What remains to be seen is, whether Congress manages to retain the tempo till the mother of all battles is fought in 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

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