A disquieting trend is emerging– religion is unabashedly being used to garner votes in elections. From invoking the name of Rama to brazenly brandishing ones religion, politicians are using their religiosity in a bid to win over the hearts of the voters. Have politicians turned religious only to get votes? It’s a question that begs for an answer.
From a Shiv bhakt’ Congress president Rahul Gandhi has turned ‘pundit’ overnight as his posters ‘Ram Bhakt Pandit Rahul Gandhi’ appeared in Chitrakoot just ahead of polling for the Madhya Pradesh elections. His posters referring to him as a ‘Shiv Bhakt’ had earlier come up in Bhopal after his Kailash Mansarovar yatra to pay obeisance to Lord Shiva.
This has drawn sharp protests from the BJP, which political observers say, could be the saffron party’s fear of losing their Hindutva agenda to the Congress.
Hitting out at the Congress president, BJP state unit spokesperson Deepak Vijayavargiya said: “He should disclose dates of shraddh of his ancestors to people if he is a real Hindu devotee.”
The Congress seems to be working to a strategy to take on the BJP and in the process have started exhibiting a saffron streak in an attempt to woo Hindu voters. From making promises to protect cows to projecting Rahul Gandhi as a devotee of Rama, Shiva and river goddess Narmada, the Congress is wearing its religiosity on its sleeves.
The Congress president, before kicking off the poll campaign, offered prayers at the Kamtanath temple at the forested hill of Kamadgiri, where, according to mythology, Lord Rama stayed 11 of his 14 years in exile. The temple hopping has somewhat become ingrained in the Congress’ poll campaigns over the past few Assembly elections.
It was apparently the Gujarat Assembly elections that brought about a perceptible change in the Congress’ style of electioneering. The Congress president had visited about 20 temple during his campaigning for the State polls, and that, according to observers, did pay dividends. Though the Congress did not wrest the State from the BJP, it did manage to increase its vote share handsomely and give a scare to the saffron party and its top leadership which hails from Gujarat.
On Rahul’s temple-hopping spree, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi had then said:”Mandir jaana hathyar hai, Masjid jaana bimaari hai.” Since then, the Congress seems to have found a new ‘hathyar (weapon) to take on the BJP, and its leaders have been on a temple run ahead of any Assembly election.
With the crucial elections to five States on, the Congress has unleashed its weapon. Rahul Gandhi has straightaway attacked Narendra Modi, saying the Prime Minister does not know the meaning of being a Hindu nor understands the foundation of Hinduism.
For the BJP, it was hitting below the belt. Every top leader counter attacked. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said Rahul was himself confused about his religion and caste. “For years, the party presented him as a secular leader, but with polls nearing, when they realised that Hindus are in a majority, they created this image,” she said.
Another Union minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, also took a dig at Rahul, and called him the “confused Gandhi.” “He keeps on changing his Hindu appearances for political purposes, not by way of commitment. He isn’t a Hindu by commitment, he is a Hindu by political consideration.” The Prime Minister also hit back at the Congress president, saying even the rishis and munis (Hindu sages) did not have complete knowledge of Hinduism.
“Now, during elections they are saying that Modi doesn’t have the knowledge of Hinduism. Is Rajasthan going to vote on the issue that Modi has the knowledge (on Hinduism) or not? “the PM asked. But the irony is that the saffron party is itself being accused of playing the politics of religion for electoral gains, by raising the bogey of Ram temple construction just before the elections time and again.
“The current government has no issue to discuss right now, so they are trying to create differences between the Hindus and Muslims to get votes, ” Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray said.
Some say the Congress has cracked the code to defeat the BJP by actively countering the saffron party’s Hindutva agenda with more Hindutva. “Any religion is not an inherited property of any political party,” Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia said. But it’s a sad day in Indian democracy that religion has entered the election campaign, and the the Election Commission– the poll watchdog– needs to ponder what role religion is playing in voting.>
Yashwardhan Joshi is a Journalist of long standing and commentator on issues of Administration and Social Issues.