The itinerary for Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s first-leg tour indicates the party may continue with a strategy it adopted in the recent Gujarat polls of subtly appealing to Hindu voters with temple visits by its chief campaigner. Among key stops on the schedule are places with a Hindu temple, two Lingayat religious centres, and a Muslim dargah.
Rahul is scheduled to tour the districts of Bellary, Koppal, Raichur, Yadgir, Gulbarga and Bidar, in northernmost parts of the state, from February 10 to 13.
While state Congress leaders claim that no deliberate thought was given to the religious stopovers, the nature of places chosen reveals careful planning. Much of the territory Rahul will cover is inhabited by Lingayats, the single largest community in Karnataka.
Followers of 12th century poet-saint Basaveshwara, Lingayats are identified as Hindus and are the electoral base of BJP in the state — former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, BJP’s chief ministerial candidate and state unit chief, comes from the community. The Lingayats are, however, currently engaged in an internal battle for separation from Hindu religion, an effort that is seen to have received subtle support from Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s Congress government.
It is widely believed that the Congress will need to take away Lingayat votes in north Karnataka from the BJP to stand a chance of returning to power.
The first religious stop designated for Rahul during the first leg of his tour is at Huligamma Temple, a religious place more than a thousand years old in Huligi village on the banks of Tungabhadra river in Koppal district. Durga is believed to be manifested in the form of a rock there.
The second scheduled stop, at Gavisiddeshwara Mutt, is a prominent Lingayat monastery in the same district, headed by the seer Abhinava Gavi Siddheshwara Swami. The mutt is over 800 years old and has deep reach within villagers of the region on account of its efforts at spiritual, educational and health outreach.
Rahul is next scheduled to visit Khwaja Bande Nawaz dargah in Gulbarga district. The dargah, mausoleum of the famous Sufi saint Khwaja Bande Nawaz, is visited by people of all communities in the region.
The final religious stop, as per the itinerary, will be Anubhava Mantapa — at Basavakalyan in Bidar district — a seat of religious thought and reflection for the Lingayat community.
While announcing Rahul’s tour programme recently, State Congress president G Parameshwara had said: “There are no scheduled visits to temples during the first (leg of) visit. But if he is invited in an informal way to participate in a temple ritual during his visit, he will participate. It is not a form of soft Hindutva but inclusive Hindutva that we (Congress party) follow.”