AHMEDABAD: Senior lawyer and Congress leader Kapil Sibal’s appearance in Supreme Court for the Sunni Waqf Board seeking deferment of the Ram Janmabhoomi case hearing till after 2019 is likely to rip apart the Congress’s well-cultivated campaign on the ground in Gujarat. About 25 years after the Babri Masjid demolition, the elusive Ram Mandir of Ayodhya has once again become a poll issue in Gujarat.
Minutes after Sibal’s appearance, BJP president Amit Shah, who is camping in Gujarat ahead of the elections, attacked Rahul Gandhi over Sibal’s plea. He asked Rahul to clarify his stand on the temple issue, considering he has been visiting temples all over Gujarat these days. Now with three days to the first phase of polls, BJP has also started circulating posters in social media translating in Guajrati Sibal’s plea in court. With just a day to go for the polling to close, this has now well and truly emerged as a poll issue.
After staying out of power for 22 years, the Gujarat Congress led by Rahul Gandhi has been on a sharp offensive in its campaign in Gujarat this time, striking the BJP in its Hindutva gut. Rahul has by now visited more than 23 temples in about 15 days spent campaigning in Gujarat.
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The BJP was distinctly uncomfortable with these visits. They hit out saying Rahul has never bothered to visit the Akshardham Temple in Delhi, which is 5 minutes from his home. They said his visits are political motivated, aping the the BJP’s leaders, but doesn’t have any real faith for Hindus. But the Congress, who has for long identified itself with the ‘secular’ tag, has been unapologetic about these visits and its ‘soft Hindutva’ campaign.
Posters in social media have emerged asking voters to vote for the real Hindutva party, not fake ‘secular clones’.
The BJP on the other hand is understandably facing acute anti-incumbency. This is articulated by young Patidar leader Hardik Patel, who has been appealing to vote against the BJP and for the Congress. While the jury is still out whether the influential Patidar community will heed to Hardik or not, the crowds gathering at this multiple rallies are not missed by the BJP.
The Congress, meanwhile, has come out with a formula and promised reservation to the Patidar community if it comes to power. This is included in their manifesto too. Moreover, another young leader Alpesh Thakor representing the OBC community has also officially joined the Congress. He is expected to benefit the Congress on 34 seats across the state. Jignesh Mevani’s anti-BJP campaign citing injustice to Dalits has been a concern too, though Dalits form only 7% of the state’s electorate.
BJP has been fighting elections on the agenda of ‘development’ or vikas for a decade now. Vikas is linked with anti-incumbency in Gujarat. Hence the BJP was fervently looking for an issue that could consolidate its Hindu vote bank. Consolidation of the Hindu community as a votebank has been Narendra Modi’s winning strategy since 2002, which has been successfully replicated in other states.
Associating the Congress as a party and Rahul Gandhi himself with Muslim community or Mughal kings has been the norm for the BJP for a long time now. In his last visit, Modi called Rahul ‘Aurangzeb’, the last Moghul king known for his hardline stand against Hinduism and atrocities. BJP karyakartas are known to whisper in their door-to-door campaign that Ahmed Patel is likely to be the Congress chief minster if it comes to power.
Sibal’s appearance for the Waqf Board was an opportunity they were waiting for for a long time. It has practically fallen in their lap. Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said BJP is playing the role of Manthara in this issue. “Our stand on the Ram Temple issue in Ayodhya is very clear that the Supreme Court will take a decision. The BJP is raising this issue because it can see defeat ahead in Gujarat,” he said.