A question of faith as Rahul Gandhi visits Gujarat's Somnath temple

Last Updated: Thu, Nov 30, 2017 16:48 hrs
Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat's Somnath temple

(Image tweeted by @INCIndia)

A routine campaign visit to the famed Somanth temple in Gujarat by Rahul Gandhi turned into a controversy on Wednesday after his name was reportedly listed in the register of non-Hindu visitors. The Congress leader’s visit to seek the blessings of Lord Shiva at the temple caused uproar as he was put down as a "non-Hindu" along with Congress president Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel.

The custom at the temple is for non-Hindus to sign a register before entering. The BJP, soon to pick up on it, demanded Rahul Gandhi specify his religious identity while Congress claimed it was a forgery.

According to the Somnath temple trustee P K Laheri, he said the Congress media coordinator made the entry for Ahmed Patel and Rahul Gandhi as 'non-Hindus' saying in part, “How can we explain it? Congress leaders are best placed to tell why such an entry was made in the register”. P.K. Laheri said that Gandhi only put his signature in the visitors’ book and nowhere else. The Congress also responded to clear the air:

In a column for the Daily Pioneer, Anirban Ganguly, director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Research Foundation, New Delhi and a member of the Policy Research Department and Library & Documentation Department of the BJP criticized Rahul’s visit to the Somnath temple as a gimmick –

“Rahul visiting Somnath smacks of opportunism because on a number of occasions he and his Congress party have actually denigrated Hindus and cast aspersions on them as a community”.

“A question that Rahul Gandhi needs to be asked, when he is at Somnath, and is whether he now, in hindsight, supports the effort of rebuilding Somnath, if yes, what are his views on another pending reconstruction — Ayodhya?”

The news did not leave the campaign trail and evolved into a controversy about his religion and Nehru’s views on the temple; the Prime Minister called out Rahul’s hypocrisy by stating that his great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru had opposed the reconstruction of the Somnath temple, which is believed to have been destroyed several times.

The issue regarding the Somanth temple and then Prime Minister Nehru, is about him not liking the idea of restoring this ancient monument as Manish Maheshwari writes in a column for Swarajya –

“In the early months of 1951, just few weeks before the temple inauguration, the matter came to a head. At the end of a Cabinet meeting, Nehru called Munshi (a cabinet minister) and said: I don’t like your trying to restore Somnath. It is Hindu revivalism”.

“He was haunted by the spectre of ‘Hindu revivalism’. Restoring an ancient monument, a place of immense veneration, which had been repeatedly obliterated, was according to Nehru an act of Hindu revivalism”.

The head of the BJP IT cell Amit Malviya tweeted about the headline stating that Rahul Gandhi had revealed himself to be non Hindu:

The question over his religion is a ripe opportunity for the opposition to question his faith, to speculate in public if Rahul Gandhi, the person who the public should hate, is a Hindu, is someone who follows the same religion as they do. The Ahmedabad Mirror in a report noted that he has visited more than a dozen temples over the last two months on the campaign trail.

David Frawley, director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies, in a column blamed Rahul Gandhi for the confusion over his Hindu identity and called out the overall Nehru-Gandhi family for not clearing the air over its religious beliefs –

“It is unfair to see any political conspiracy or any form of religious intolerance in the current controversy. The family has intentionally avoided clearing the air over its religious identity, which seems to change depending on political compulsions”.

“…such political charades can easily be seen through. The new Hindu image of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress reflects a lack of respect for Hindu sentiments. Rahul Gandhi and the Congress need to apologize to Hindus and not add a convenient Hindu image to their desperate new political makeover”.

With a back and forth between the Congress and the BJP over the religion of Rahul Gandhi, the same Ahmedabad report spoke to priests of other temples who expressed their views on his visit to their temples –

Jayshil Thaker, priest of Ambaji temple said in part, “Rahul Gandhi came here on November 12 and performed all rituals as directed. He is a Hindu”. Another priest of the Ambaji temple shared a similar sentiment saying in part “Rahul’s face glowed with positivity. He bowed before Babaji and sought my blessing. I think Rahul Gandhi is a Hindu”.

It’s not surprising to see the hue and cry over a temple visit by a politician, particularly one who has the microscope on him at all times. However, one could argue the religious beliefs are not important rather the person’s ability to govern. It is perhaps wishful thinking in India, where religion and politics mix easily and fluently and votes depend on it.

More columns by Varun Sukumar