Special Correspondent | Caravan Daily
NEW DELHI – After 140-km long Ganga Yatra from Prayagraj (Allahabad) to Kashi (Varanasi), Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi is set to challenge the Modi-Yogi combine in Uttar Pradesh from Ayodhya — the city of temples and home to Babri Masjid-Ram Janmbhoomi dispute. She will start her Ayodhya campaign on Wednesday. The move, analysts suggest, is to strengthen the Congress’ soft Hindutva offensive to attract Hindu votes. Hindutva has been the political pitch and USP of the BJP and by travelling to the temple town, Priyanka Gandhi is trying to challenge the saffron party on its turf.
According to the Congress sources, Priyanka will tour Ayodhya via train and bus. She will reach Faizabad on Wednesday morning by Kaifiyat Express. She will start her roadshow by paying a visit to the Hanumangarhi temple. Then, her entourage will pass through various roads and alleys of the ancient town to garner support for the grand old party.
Besides praying in Hanumangarhi temple, according to sources, Priyanka will also pay homage at Birla temple. Then, she will interact with school kids in private institutions. Her itinerary also includes her address at city roundabouts and direct contact with shopkeepers and residential dwellers.
Priyanka spelled out Congress’ soft-Hindutva poll strategy by her Ganga Yatra. In Ayodhya, she is expected to do the same. Though, the Congress sources say, there is no plan for her to visit the controversial make-shift temple at the Babri Masjid site, it can’t be ruled out if she makes a surprise visit to the site.
For the last 30 years, no big Congress leader has visited temples in Ayodhya. In 1986, Priyanka’s father Rajiv Gandhi had opened the pandora’s box by allowing shilanyas (foundation laying ceremony) at Ayodhya. The subsequent rise of BJP from 2 Lok Sabha seats to 89 Lok Sabha seats in 1989 is well etched in the memory of people.
In recent times, Priyanka’s brother and Congress president Rahul Gandhi had organised charpoy meetings (khat sabha) in Ayodhya in 2017 before UP Assembly polls. He had even paid a visit to Hanumangarhi temple but he stayed away from the disputed site and didn’t even make any reference to the Ram Temple issue.
Interestingly, during his five years rule, even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not bothered to tour Ayodhya even once.
Analysts believe that the Ayodhya tour shows desperation of the Congress to win back the Hindu votes.
“Congress has been playing soft-Hindutva card for quite some time now. During elections in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi openly made frequent visits to temples and asserted his Hindu identity. But, the Congress must know that Hinduvta is purely BJP’s territory. Can the Congress, like the BJP, claim to build Ram Temple once it comes to power? No. Then, Priyanka’s Hinduvta theatrics are likely to backfire and it may also provide ammunition for BJP to target Congress,” said Sharad Gupta, political editor of ‘Amar Ujala’ daily.
Sharad adds that Congress’ desperation to claim the Hindu votes emanates from its frustration with equation around SP-BSP alliance.
“The SP-BSP alliance has both right chemistry and mathematics in its favour. Muslims, Dalits, OBCs plus some upper caste voters seem solidly favouring the gathbandhan at this point of time. It has dishevelled plans of parties like Congress, which has failed to secure all important poll tie-ups. It failed to stitch an alliance in Delhi, Bengal and UP and thus trying tactics which do not originally belong to it,” said Gupta.
However, there are also analysts like Prof Ujjwal Choudhry of Pearl Academy who believe that raising issues like the Ganga revival and protection of cattle and cows is fine and the Congress is justified in standing by such issues.
“Raising the issue of Ganga cleaning and health of cattle is important from the point of view of ecology. Congress is correctly asking BJP as to why it failed to provide better health care to cattles and didn’t clean up Ganga despite constant promises,” said Choudhry.
But Choudhry dismissed the Congress poll prospects in UP.
“Raising these issues is fine. Any party can do that. However, the UP contest is between the BJP and the SP-BSP-RLD combine. Congress doesn’t seem to grab more than three seats,” he said.