It will be naïve to think that the BJP is either altogether ignoring Rahul Gandhi-led Congress’s ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ or considering it as an event politically inconsequential that will have no bearing on 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Even if the party strategists and top leaders are shrugging off the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ as a non-event of sorts or underplaying the response that Mr Gandhi’s walkathon has evoked, the recent developments involving constituents and supporters of Sangh Parivar during the course of second leg of his padyatra in Uttar Pradesh, will leave them loopy. The praise for Mr Gandhi’s long-march coming from these unexpected quarters could be reflection of a rattling effect.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is considered a strong arm of the RSS, which was in the forefront of Ram Janam Bhoomi Temple movement. It has been a strong baiter (as part of the wider Sangh Parivar ideology) of Congress and in particular the Nehru-Gandhi family. If someone high-up in the VHP ranks praises Mr Gandhi’s effort, it will be unimaginable to fathom that it was without the consent of RSS or that it would leave the BJP top brass untouched.
Every word in politics is meant to work as a multi-edged weapon. Though VHP is supposed to be a non-political outfit articulating hardcore Hindutava in different forms, it drew its strong identity from the “Temple politics”. So, could be that when one of its top functionaries praised Mr Gandhi’s effort of taking out a Kanyakumari to Kashmir on-foot march, the VHP was addressing more than one audience and that too in political terms. Nonetheless, their prime audience is none other than the Congress MP, of course, with a secondary target too.
None other than the VHP’s international vice-president and general secretary of ‘Teerath Shetra Trust’ that is overseeing the construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya, Champat Rai praised Mr Gandhi for undertaking the long and arduous ‘padyatra’. And that too when it was passing through Uttar Pradesh which is the hub of BJP’s Hindutava politics under the saffron clad chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
Without mincing any words, Mr Rai publicly praised Mr Gandhi for his Herculean effort of walking through the country in this weather and trying to understand it. More interestingly, he said, “a youth is walking on foot, it is worthy of appreciation. Who criticized it? I am a worker of the RSS. Did someone from the Sangh criticize it? RSS never condemns Bharat Jodo Yatra.”
Impliedly, he let it be known that nationalism was not the sole domain of anyone group of individuals. Ostensibly, the message must have reached where it was meant to be sent.
He further asked, has the PM criticized? He (Rahul Gandhi) has walked 3000 kilometers on foot in this weather. We will appreciate this move. Everyone should do a padyatra of India and conduct research on the country.”
His discerption of the ‘padyatra’ as means to unite the country and that everyone should undertake such an effort has a wider reflection. It was meant to convey a strong message elsewhere also and has strong relevance to the current political circumstances.
It is certainly not an emotional or an off-the-cuff remark but an observation made with due diligence. There are multiple messages and indications combined into one in his observations. If it came as a music to the ears of the Rahul Gandhi brigade who took it as a vindication of their logic behind taking out the long march, it certainly has a strong potential to upset the BJP’s top brass and, in all probability meant to send a strong signal to “Delhi Durbar”.
Mr Rai’s note of appreciation came shortly after another important player in the Ram Temple movement and construction, had sent his good wishes for the success of Mr Gandhi’s ‘padyatra’. Acharya Satyendra Das, chief priest of the Ram Janambhoomi Temple, which is currently under construction, sent a note of appreciation acknowledging the invitation letter to participate in the road-march.
“I hope and pray that the mission for which you are fighting is successful. I bless you for your long life,” he stated adding: “You are working for the noble cause that is ‘sarvajan hitay sarvjan sukhaay’. I wish the blessings of Lord Rama be upon you always.”
Incidentally, on the political front many parties particularly BJP and Bahujan Samaj Party have used this expression to explain their commitment to working for the welfare of all communities. And this makes his observation in Mr Gandhi’s (read Congress’s) context more interesting, and probably a reminder for the BJP.
Do these observations convey differing perceptions on the issue of “Hindutava” as espoused by the RSS-VHP and as pursued by its political formation, the BJP? These are indications to this effect.
These are politically potent developments from both the Rahul Gandhi-Congress, and BJP’s points of view though with varying fall-out. Positive in the first case and cause of concern for the saffron party.
Since both the persons of eminence are directly related to the Ayodhya Temple movement that catapulted BJP to power in Delhi and continues to milch the “holy cow” even now for electoral benefits, their praise for Mr Gandhi, a villain and a papu till the other day for them, has to be read and analysed in futuristic terms. Does it reflect expression of mistrust by a section of the broader Sangh Parivar against the New Delhi dispensation? Have they thrown a gauntlet at Narendra Modi in some form?
In the light of these observations, the focus henceforth will be on developments in the Sangh Parivar. Mr Rai’s observation bringing in the RSS factor leaves little to doubt that he was not talking by himself or performing a solo act.
Whatever be the meaning or connotation of Rai and the Acharya observations, these cannot be viewed in isolation or simply dismissed as reactions by two individuals. After all they jointly represent the will of the two institutions, espousing the “broader Hindu cause”, they represent with a wider net of followers- political and non-political.
A note of appreciation coming from the rival camp is of much greater value than a commendation from within. While the Rahul Gandhi brigade should feel elated, this is definitely a cause of concern for the BJP strategists. This note has the potential to sketch the contours of future politics in the run up to the next Lok Sabha election.
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