The Gujarat campaign has been one of the hottest in recent years. Normally, Gujarat political leaders are very much alike and ideologically quite similar. Which party they sign up with depends on which they think is likely to win. Since Narendra Modi was targeted by the Congress for the 2002 riots, a sharper focus emerged. The Congress tried to demonise him in 2007 by labelling him ‘Maut ka Saudagar’. It did not help. He won again in 2012.
So this time the Congress is playing a soft Hindutva card, as I mentioned a while ago. Rahul Gandhi visits every temple he can and offers puja in an ostentatious way which Congress leaders never did before (apart from the time when five Cabinet ministers of the UPA rushed to greet Baba Ramdev at the Delhi airport). But now the battle for Hindu votes in Gujarat is fully engaged.
This is why there is a fake controversy as to whether Rahul Gandhi is a Hindu. There is confusion as to whether he signed a register as a non-Hindu or a Hindu. I had no idea we sign registers upon entering temples, like in British clubs. But the point is why should the Congress feel insecure about Rahul Gandhi signing as non-Hindu. If it is a secular party, religious denomination should not matter.
The Congress is missing a trick here. It should loudly proclaim that Rahul Gandhi is a true representative of multi-faith, diverse India. Look at his pedigree. His paternal grandfather was Parsi. His father, thus half Hindu (Brahmin) and half Parsi, married Sonia, who is Italian and Catholic. In Europe, at least as far as I know, children born of a Catholic parent (mother or father) are brought up as Catholic except in the case of a special Papal dispensation to bring them up outside the faith. Indian Catholic Church may have different rules.
Thus Rahul is a Hindu and a Parsi and a Christian Catholic. It is rare for any Indian political leader to be able to claim this degree of diversity. The nervousness of the Congress about his religion is surprising since secularism is claimed to be its strong card. Has the Congress forgotten the meaning of secularism in its haste to adopt Hindutva lite?
There is yet another issue here. Every religion is eager to attract people to its place of worship, whether they subscribe to the religion or not. We went to the mosque in London’s Regent’s Park for the memorial to our friend Ismail Merchant when he died. I have been to countless churches. The Tirupati temple does not have a register. Nowhere have I been asked to sign a register stating my religion, not in the Amritsar Golden Temple or in Nizamuddin at Delhi. Is this peculiar to Gujarat temples?
One should be able to go to a temple, mosque, church, gurdwara without having to declare what your religion is. To have to declare my religion on entering a place of worship sounds like a violation of fundamental rights. Just imagine if a mosque asked visitors whether they were Muslims or non-Muslims. There would be riots led by the usual suspects. As in all such matters, the solution lies with Narendra Modi. He should declare that Rahul’s religion is irrelevant to his politics. Sabka saath.