When Priyanka Gandhi Vadra landed in Ayodhya on Friday afternoon to play soft Hindutava ball and seek blessings of some of the deities, she may have wished that history does not repeat itself.
Priyanka is now the third member of Nehru-Gandhi family in the past 30 years, besides Rajiv and Rahul, to visit Ayodhya while kickstarting the election campaign for the Congress. One is not sure whether she is mindful of the fact on both previous occasions — after Rajiv visited Faizabad in 1989 with promise to herald 'Ram Rajya' on his return to power and after Rahul visited in September 2016 ahead of Uttar Pradesh assembly election — the Congress' fortunes took a downturn.
Rajiv's visit came in the aftermath of him unlocking Ramlala and laying the foundation of Ram Chabutara in Ayodhya, after he negated the Supreme Court verdict in the Shah Bano case through legislation and was accused of pandering to Muslim appeasement. To counter these charges made by the BJP (which was founded in 1980 after split in Janata Party and had only two members in Lok Sabha), Rajiv attempted to appease the forces of Hindutva. That was when Congress was ruling at the Centre, Rajiv was prime minister with highest ever majority of 404 seats in the Lok Sabha and it was ruling Uttar Pradesh with a substantive majority and with the towering Narayan Dutt Tiwari as chief minister. In that 1989 election, parliamentary and Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls were being held simultaneously.
The results shocked the Congress: It was conclusively defeated in both parliamentary polls and Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls. Since then, the party has been on the margins in the country's biggest electoral prize and a constant spiral. At the Centre, though Congress was in power for 15 years, it could never secure a majority on its own: It had to either lead a minority or a coalition government. That election also saw rise of the BJP from a negligible two seats in the Lok Sabha to 85 MPs.
In September 2016, in the run-up to Uttar Pradesh elections, Rahul, while trying to regain Hindu credentials for self and Congress visited Hanuman Garhi in Ayodhya. He offered puja and sought blessings of seers and the deity. To ensure that his Ayodhya visit didn’t send a wrong message among their support base in Muslim and Christian communities, he also visited mosques, dargah and churches.
The Congress claimed that Rahul’s move put the party in the lead, but when the results came in, the grand old party was reduced to single digits: seven seats in the 402-member Assembly. Priyanka, general secretary in-charge of UP (East) is seeking to revive fortunes of Congress in the 2019 parliamentary elections. To ensure that her visit to Ayodhya is not misinterpreted she also visited a dargarh, Materva mazar, en-route from Ayodhya. Even as Priyanka and Rahul went to Ayodhya, they chose to avoid darshan of Ramlala statute at the disputed site. Rahul visited Hanuman Garhi and Priyanka did the same. Which is indicative of Congress indecisiveness on the Ayodhya issue.
Responding to a query on her visit to Ayodhya, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said, “It’s good that they are going to Ayodhya, they should also accept that this was birthplace of Lord Ram.” The Congress’ problem is that it neither has the support base, nor the goodwill. Priyanka’s visit to Ayodhya could be categorised as political symbolism. Such symbolism or tokenism works only if it is supported by sustained and substantive action. Unfortunately, she and her party are on the wrong side of history.
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Updated Date: Mar 29, 2019 21:01:51 IST