NEW DELHI, Jan 16: The former Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday justified the party leaders skipping the January 22 consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya stating that the event had been designed “around Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the RSS” and it was not possible for the Congressmen to attend an event of the rival political party.
Addressing a press conference during his “Bharat Jodo Nayaya Yatra” which passed through Manipur, Mr Gandhi said the BJP had tried to give the consecration ceremony an “electoral” and “political” flavour. “Even the authorities of the Hindu religion, the biggest authorities of the Hindu religion, have made their view public about what they think about the function,” he said, hinting at objections raised by the Shankaracharyas on the consecration.
The BJP promptly attacked Gandhi for his comments on Ram temple and said the Ram temple was a deeply felt emotion by Hindus in every corner of the country. The Union minister and BJP leader Rajeev Chandrasekhar said “Rahul Gandhi lives in a la-la world. He thinks everything he says is predicated on nobody understanding the truth and he can get away with these atrocious lies.” “He tried so in 2014 and 2019 and is trying again. The people of India are wise enough. They understand the truth and what his politics is about,” he added.
Rahul Gandhi had said unlike the BJP leaders, he didn’t need to wear his religion on his sleeve, adding: “We have made it clear that whoever would like to visit the Ram Temple… among our partners and from our parties… is most welcome to do so.”
The Congress was open to all religions and practices, Rahul said, reiterating: “The issue frankly is that the RSS and the BJP have made the January 22 function a completely political function, a Narendra Modi function. It has become an RSS-BJP function. And I think that is why the Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said he would not go to the function… It is difficult for us to go to a political function which is designed around the Prime Minister of India and designed around the RSS… the Congress’s principal opponents.”
Asked specifically whether he would visit the temple after January 22, he said: “Our Yatra has a fixed route, and we are going to follow that route. We are going to follow the route that I am on, this is a route that we have designed and we are going to stick to this route.”
Asked where he would be on January 22, and whether he plans to visit any temple on that day, he said: “I actually don’t know. I can check and tell you. But I will be somewhere on the route of the Yatra. I think we will be in Assam.”
On how he, a self-confessed believer, would counter the BJP charge that the Congress and the Gandhi family were “anti-Hindu” for staying away from the consecration, he said: “My thinking is that those who really believe in religion in the true sense keep their relations with religion personal and don’t make use of religion. Those who have a public relationship with religion… wear it here (pointing to his shirt), try to make use of it. I don’t try to make use of religion. I have no such interest.”
He added: “But I try to live by the principles of religion and apply them in my life… So I behave properly with people, I treat people with respect, when someone says something, I never respond with arrogance. I listen to them. I don’t spread hatred. I follow that in my life. So I don’t need to wear it on my sleeve.”
Apart from Kharge, Congress Parliamentary Party chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had got invites for the consecration but have decided to skip the event.
Since then, several Congress leaders have expressed their reservation over the leadership’s decision. On Monday, Makar Sankranti, the Uttar Pradesh unit of the party was in Ayodhya to pay its homage to the existing Ram Lalla idol. Senior Haryana Congress leader Deepender Hooda was also in the town on Monday to offer prayers.
Speaking about his Yatra, which entered the third day on Tuesday, Rahul said the Congress and INDIA alliance wanted to place before the people an alternative vision against the “huge” social, political and economic injustice, and to the “model of hatred, model of injustice and model of monopoly” of the BJP. Rahul also promised to work towards a solution on the Naga issue.
Expressing confidence that the INDIA seat-sharing talks would conclude on a positive note, Rahul underplayed the friction apparent at the last meeting, where JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar refused the post of convener.
“To be frank, the media overplays these issues. The mood in the meeting, the discussions that take place, the humour, the camaraderie that is there… you don’t show it. You take up one issue and make it the main issue. There is mutual respect and affection between the leaders of the INDIA formation. And the INDIA formation is an ideological formation that is placing itself in opposition to the idea of the RSS and BJP. I am very confident that such small issues in the INDIA alliance would be resolved and we will together fight against the BJP in the elections.”
On the hurdles in the seat-sharing talks with the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, Rahul reiterated that “the status of the INDIA alliance is very good. Discussions are ongoing, and I think they are going quite well. Let us see where those discussions end. But broadly, a lot of these are simple discussions… they are not quite complex. I am quite confident that they will be resolved.”
The Yatra will pass through 100 Lok Sabha constituencies in 15 states, traversing 6,713 km, mostly in buses but also on foot, and culminate in Mumbai on March 20 or 21.