Rahul Gandhi’s temple visits in Gujarat led to much political debate and speculation on whether the Congress was playing soft Hindutva. Ashok Gehlot, the AICC general secretary who was by his side during these visits, has said that it was important to dispel the misperception that Congress is synonymous with Muslims and that the BJP is equivalent to Hindus.
Speaking at the The Indian Express Idea Exchange programme, the former Rajasthan Chief Minister also said that Mani Shankar Aiyar’s “neech” remark and Kapil Sibal’s plea in the Supreme Court to defer the hearing in the Ayodhya lawsuit until July 2019 helped the BJP as it gave Prime Minister Narendra Modi an “opportunity to divert” the discourse.
Asked about the silence of the Congress on minorities in the election campaign and the assertion by the party that he is a janeu dhari Hindu, Gehlot said he was only reacting to the popular convention that a leader should visit all religious places.
“Aur Congress kyunki secularism ko aadhaar lekar chali hai hamesha, toh ek message taiyar kiya desh ko ki hum sab dharmo ko lekar saath chalna chahte hain desh ke hit mein. Us perception ka unhone misuse kiya BJP ne — Congress musalmanon ki party ban gayi hai, Congress musalmanon ko tarjeeh de rahi hai aur yeh baat Hinduon ke dimaag mein aa gayi country ke andar. Ram Mandir ke naam pe aa gayi thi….aaj se 20-25 saal pehle…Yatra nikali gayi thi….gaon gaon ke andar…paise ikatthe kiya gey the…aise mahol ban gaya country ke ander,” he said. (For Congress, secularism has always been a guiding principle. So the message was that we want to take everyone along in the interest of the country. The BJP misused that perception (to signal) that Congress has become a party of Muslims, Congress is giving preference to Muslims. And this impression has gained ground. It was underlined in the name of Ram temple…20-25 years ago…when the yatra was taken out….in very village….funds were collected…such an atmosphere was created in the country)
“…Hindu society mein ek galatfehmi paida karne mein yeh kamyab ho gaye ki Congress ka matlab hai musalman aur BJP ka matlab hai hindu. Us chakkar ke andar yeh desh chal raha tha, aur chal raha hai abhi bhi kaafi had tak….jo bhavana bani hui hai logon ki aur jo dimaag mein ghusi hui hai, usko desh ke hit mein nikalna jaroori hai. Aur agar nahin nikalenge toh aane wale waqt mein taqleef hogi, pure mulk ko taqleef hogi,” he said. (They succeeded in creating a misunderstanding in the Hindu society that Congress means Muslims and the BJP means Hindu. The country got caught in that narrative and continues to be so. It is necessary to remove that feeling from the minds of the people in the interest of the country. If that is not removed, then there are hard times ahead for the country)
Asked whether Sibal’s plea in the Supreme Court had an impact on the elections, he said: “His statement, Aiyar’s statement, all these statements gave Modi an opportunity to divert….That statement was not of the Congress. The Congress had not given him any briefing. He was not the Congress’s lawyer. Despite that, unfortunately for us they took benefit from the statement which came. There are no two ways about it.”