Amid intense political battle, the focus shifts on Rahul Gandhi’s religion

The battle is intensifying day by day as the elections are nearing in Gujarat. While till now the two main political parties, BJP and Congress were attacking and counter-attacking each other on numerous issue, now the topic of debate for the parties is – What is the religion of Rahul Gandhi?

The row began when on Wednesday the Congress Vice President, Rahul Gandhi, along with a few other party leaders visited the Somnath Temple before starting the two days campaigning in the poll-bound state. While entering the temple, a member of his core team seemingly committed an error, that might cost the Congress party dearly.

Winning the Gujarat elections has become a matter of prestige for the Congress, who is striving hard to make its presence be felt in the ever-changing political equations in India since BJP has pledged to make it a Congress Mukt Bharat. Congress was also seen as a party which favored the minorities and especially the Muslims.

In an attempt to clean this anti-Hindutva image of the party, Rahul Gandhi has labored hard in the past few months, while campaigning in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. The Congress leader has visited more than a dozen temples in the past months.

Now the question about Rahul’s religion is raised in wake of an incident that occurred on Wednesday. In a register that is kept at the Somnath Temple, exclusively for the non-Hindu visitors to fill in their names, before entering the temple for security purpose, Rahul Gandhi’s name was entered, along with the name of Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel.

And in a matter of hours, the news became viral and BJP surely did not miss the chance to take advantage of it.

According to the Congress sources,  the local media coordinator of the party, Manoj Tyagi, in Gujarat, signed both Rahul and Patel’s name in the non-Hindu register “by mistake”. Though it is still not clear as to what is the reality behind the signatures of the soon to be Congress President on the non-Hindu register, the party may have to pay a heavy price for the damage done.

While the BJp is raising questions over Rahul’s religion, the Congress, defending itself has issued a statement that the news circulating on the social media, about Rahul’sname in the non-Hindu register is fake. The party claimed that “There is only one visitor’s book at Somnath temple that was signed by Rahul Gandhi. Any other image being circulated is fabricated.”

Congress has said that Rahul Gandhi only signed in the visitor’s register and also blamed the BJP to be behind the controversy. The party cleared that the images of Rahul’s name in the non-Hindu register are fake images morphed by the BJP to harm the image of the Congress. A lot many citations are making it to the debate, some are saying that the name in the register is a fake image, some are giving the reason that Rahul signed only in the visitor’s register, while some are citing that it was the media person that by mistake wrote the name of the Congress leaders.

The party claimed that the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi was a not just a Hind and a ‘Shiv Bhakt’ but also a ‘janeu-dhari’ (sacred thread-wearing) Hindu. Congress’ chief whip in the Lok Sabha Deepender Hooda said that the signatures done in the visitor’s book were the original ones. He further accused the BJP of it saying that “The other signature is written as ‘Rahul Gandhi Ji’, why would he write ‘ji’? We don’t know who wrote it. The BJP is doing what it does best: diverting from real issues.”

Meanwhile, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that “The signature which is being talked of is different. Neither it is the signature of Rahul Gandhi, nor was this register ever given to him.” He also alleged that as Modi was a trustee of the temple, it was a planned strategy of the BJP to damage the image of Congress.

“This is fake. Tyagi was made to sign on a blank paper of the register for media entry and later the names of Rahul Gandhi and others were added to the register. This is a conspiracy of the BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a trustee of the temple trust,” Randeep Surjewala said.

The BJP did not miss the opportunity to pull down on the rising popularity of the Congress leader. BJP Information Technology cell head Amit Malviya took the party on Twitter, questioning the religion, Gandhi family belonged to and whether they were lying and misleading the people by projecting themselves as Hindus? He also brought up the matter that Sonia Gandhi was referred as a Christian leader by UPA’s representative in the US, Meera Shankar.

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra also alleged the Congress and the Gandhi families for hiding the truth of their religion. He said that they had done a sin and were sinners. Responding to the allegations of Congress that it was a controversy deliberately spread by the BJP, Patra said that Tyagi who signed the register was a Congressmen, the seal was of the Congress party, how can BJP responsible for it.

Sambit Patra also tweeted “They say this is a conspiracy but we say Congress is a conspiracy. The tip of the iceberg of their conspiracy is visible today. There is no conspiracy by anyone. You are a sinner, sin is yours. Rahul Gandhi must say who he actually is?”

Patra also underlined that one has to mention its religion to the Election Commission as well, and Rahul Gandhi has shown himself as a Hindu, while in the Somnath temple he signed in the non-Hindu register. He claimed that the Congress leader should clarify its religion.

“Rahul, in his affidavit to the Election Commission, has shown different things and in the Somnath temple, he is showing different things. He should come clean. Rahul may belong to any religion, we do not have any problem. We respect him. But the people of the country will get confused with this controversy,” Sambit Patra said.

Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi has still not made any comments regarding the controversy on Rahul’s religion, he did take on Rahul’s great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru. During his speeches in Gujarat, Modi had alleged that had it not been for Sardar Patel, the Somnath Temple would not have been rebuilt, as Jawaharlal Nehru was against the reconstruction.

Today some people (Rahul) are remembering Somnath, I have to ask them, have you forgotten your history? Your family members, our first prime minister was not happy with the idea of a temple being built there”, Modi said

Following the speech of Modi and his statements against Nehru, a letter written by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to the then President Rajendra Prasad regarding the reconstruction of the Somnath temple.

Former Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel is incumbent chairman of the Trust, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP National president Amit Shah and retired Chief Secretary of Gujarat, P.K. Laheri, are its trustees.

Meanwhile in an attempt to clear te controversy the Somnath Temple authorities, said that Rahul Gandhi did not sign the register maintained for the non-Hindu visitors.  The temple trust’s Secretary PK Laheri also agreeing with the temple authorities stated that Rhul had only signed in the visitor’s register and no where else. He said “This is an inspiring place’ – is what Rahul Gandhi wrote and he did so in the presence of our general manager Vijaysinh Chawda. This is the only place where he signed.”

But Rahulji did not sign it, maybe his media coordinator did. I am not sure. There was nobody there. This non-Hindu register generally remains with the security guard,” he added.

The reality behind the controvery is still unknown but the party may have to pay heavily for the damage it can cause to the attempts of cleaning the anoti-Hindutva image of Congress just ahead of the Gujarat assembly elections.