A day after a controversy broke out over his religion, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said he and his family members were “Shiva bhakts”, but he does not do “dalali” over religion for political gains.
Speaking at a closed-door meeting with traders in Amreli, Rahul said: “My grandmother (Indira Gandhi) and my family are Shiv bhakts (devotees). But we keep such things private. We generally do not speak about them. Because, we think it is a very personal matter and we don’t need anyone else’s certificate about it… We don’t want to do ‘dalali’ over it. We do not want to use it for political purposes too.” A video of his interaction was shared with the media by local Congress leaders.
On Wednesday, Rahul’s name had appeared in a register meant for “non-Hindu” visitors at Gujarat’s Somnath temple after he went there to pay obeisance before rejoining the Congress poll campaign in Gujarat. “I will tell you what had happened. I went inside the temple. Then I signed the visitors’ book. After that, BJP people wrote my name in the second book,” Rahul alleged.
Facing flak from BJP leaders over the issue, the Congress on Wednesday had said that Rahul was “not only a Hindu, but a ‘janeu-dhari’ Hindu (one who wears the sacred thread)”.
Rahul’s clarification came hours after BJP’s national spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao on Thursday demanded that the Congress leader himself declare his religion.
Rao said, “Whatever religion you (Rahul) follow, you only should clarify… whether you are a Muslim, Christian or Parsi? We don’t have problem with your religion, but transparency is must in politics…”
“You coined the term ‘Hindu terror’ and your party leaders have conspired anti-Hindu agenda several times. Aren’t this proof that your mentality is anti-Hindu?,” said Rao and accused Rahul of doing politics of religion.
On the other hand, Shree Somnath Trust’s secretary Pravin Laheri called the entry a “silly mistake”. “Yesterday’s incident is much ado about nothing,” he told The Indian Express.
Earlier, the Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said it was the “mischief” of the temple employees. “When Rahul Gandhi and other party leaders entered the temple, Manoj Tyagi (AICC media advisor) was behind them. He stopped by the temple staffers. He was not allowed inside. When Tyagi said that he was from the media team of Rahul Gandhi, an employee asked him to sign in a register for entry into the temple,” Surjewala claimed.
On September 25, when Rahul started the first leg of his Gujarat Navsarjan Yatra, in the run-up to the Assembly elections, with a visit to Dwarkadhish Temple at Dwarka, an entry by the temple priest not only described the Congress leader’s Kashmiri Pundit roots but also his Gujarat connection.
The entry, made by priest Mithilesh Vayda and other tirth pandas at the temple, reads: “Shaher Allahabad ke rehnewale Kashmiri Pundit Nehru parivaar ki suputri swargiya Shrimati Indiraji aur Gujarat ke panaute putra Shri Feroz Gandhiji ke suputra swargiya Rajiv Gandhiji ke suputra, Shri Rahul Gandhiji aaj roj shri Dwarkadhish ka darshan aur yatra ke liye Dwarka aaye. (Rahul Gandhi — son of the late Rajiv Gandhi, who was son of the late Indiraji, daughter of pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, from the family of Kashmiri Pundits of Allahabad city, and Gujarat’s son Feroze Gandhi — came for darshan and pilgrimage to Dwarkadhish today). The entry in Devnagri also bears the signature of Rahul.
“My father Prahlad had the distinction to help Indira Gandhi do darshan at the Dwarkadhish temple thrice. My uncle was with Rajiv Gandhi for darshan. Our family has records of Jawaharlal Nehru’s grandmother Swaroop Rani’s visit to the temple. When our patrons visit the temple, it is our duty to help them have darshan and offer prayers. We did the same thing when Rahul Gandhi visited on September 25 and signed our book after I read him the entry,” Mithilesh Vayda told The Indian Express, adding that Congress leader Lalji Desai had vetted the draft before Rahul signed it.