Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Friday visited Ayodhya and offered prayers at Hanuman Garhi Temple. The chief priest of the temple said Rahul is a “good human being”, adding that “no one was better than Akhilesh Yadav”.
Rahul is the first member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to visit Ayodhya since the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. Hanuman Garhi is about a kilometre away from the disputed Ramjanmbhoomi-Babri Masjid site. While Rahul visited the temple, he stayed away from the place of ‘shilanyas’ — the foundation stone that had been laid at the disputed site in 1989 for the construction of a Ram temple.
He also visited chief priest Mahant Gyan Das, who is known for speaking against the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Das offered Rahul a saffron stole with ‘Ram’ written on it and also a portrait of Lord Hanuman.
Soon after Rahul left, Das told mediapersons: “Rahul is a good human being and appears to be a serious person, but no one is better than UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav… He (Rahul) came to me to seek my blessings for himself and his family and I gave it to him.”
He added: “Let me tell you one thing… zyada chaukiyega maat (Don’t be surprised)… Akhilesh ke aagey sab bekaar hain (Everyone is pale in front of Akhilesh).” Das then went on to ask whether the mediapersons present could understand what he was trying to say. “Samajh rahe hain na,” he asked.
He said the construction of the Ram temple was not discussed with Rahul. “Construction of the Ram temple is not in the hands of a neta but is with god. He (Rahul) is neither a judge nor a salahkaar (advisor),” added Das.
Targeting VHP, Das called its ideology “bakwas (nonsense)”. “People see me as opposing the temple but I am not against it. Where else would the temple be built if not here? But there should not be any bloodbath. Those who did it are suffering today,” Das said, adding that an attempt is being made to shift from Hindutva to ‘Bandhutva’.
He said even Sadik Ali Babu Bhai — the head of a Muslim welfare society — was with him when Rahul came visiting. “Rahul appreciated the efforts of Hanuman Garhi to restore Shahi Masjid, which is at a distance from the main site but its land is under the possession of Hanuman Garhi,” said Das.
When contacted, Sadik Ali said: “About 20 days ago, the mahant was served a notice by the municipal board to either renovate the age-old masjid or demolish it. Mahant allowed its renovation work, which we are conducting and Rahul Gandhi appreciated the move.”
“We even offered to pay money for its renovation, but some said that ‘shariyah’ does not allow it. So, it is being renovated with the help of Babu Bhai,” said Das.
No member of the Congress’ first family has visited Ayodhya since the demolition of the Babri Masjid 24 years ago, in December 1992. Rahul’s move is apparently aimed at blunting a perceived negative image for Congress among Hindus. Twenty-six years ago, Rahul’s father and former PM Rajiv Gandhi had planned to visit the Hanuman Garhi Temple during his ‘Sadbhavna Yatra’ in 1990, but could not make it because of paucity of time. Rajiv was assassinated the next year, on May 21, 1991 when Rahul was 20 years old.