Rahul pledges Kailash yatra after plane scare: Affirmation of faith or political message ahead of Karnataka polls?

It’s not unusual for Indians to ask for mannat or pledge to bow before a certain god at a temple if he or she is able to tide over a crisis or when a desire is fulfilled.

File image of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Twitter@INCIndia

File image of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Twitter@INCIndia

What is not usual, particularly for people in high places, is to make their mannat known to people, least of all at a public rally. However, Congress president Rahul Gandhi chose to do just that. And by doing so, he yet again flaunted his lately acquired 'Shiv Bhakt' Hindu identity.

By his own account — as narrated at Jan Aakrosh rally in New Delhi on Sunday — Rahul thought of Lord Shiva and Kailash Mansarovar temple when his chartered flight nosedived. Rahul was in a life-threatening situation and under the circumstances, thinking of Lord Shiva at his mythical seat.

"Two or three days ago, we were going to Karnataka by plane. The plane nosedived, falling 8,000 feet. I thought gaadi gayi (it's all over). Then it came to my mind that I want to visit Kailash Mansarovar. It was in my heart and I thought I will tell you". After finishing his speech and when people started dispersing, Rahul returned to the mike and sought permission for 10 to 15 days to visit Kailash Mansarovar after the Karnataka polls.

Rahul is known for taking breaks from the political grind and travel abroad. But in this case, Rahul announced his decision to go on a tough pilgrimage weeks in advance. The question is: Was Rahul simply conveying a thing or two about his personal faith or sending a political message?

Congress president’s statement has to be seen in context of one of his political associates signing his name on a register meant for non-Hindus at the Somnath Temple during the Gujarat election, his party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala's assertion that Rahul was “not only a Hindu but a janeu dhari Hindu (sacred thread wearing Hindu, a right reserved for Dwija or upper caste Hindus)” on 30 November, 2017, and what his mother Sonia Gandhi had to say in March 2018 to India Today Conclave.

In response to a question if Rahul’s temple visits were aimed at image makeover for Congress and not letting the BJP monopolise Hindutva, Sonia said: "There is a bit of that because we have been pushed into a corner. Perhaps rather than going to a temple quietly, may be, a little more public focus on that… the BJP has managed to, I don’t say brainwash because that is a rude word, but it has managed to convince people, to persuade people that the Congress party is a Muslim party. In my party, the great majority is Hindu. Yes, there are Muslims too. So I fail to understand this branding us as a Muslim party".

There is no doubt that even though Sonia was a Christian, she visited numerous temples both with her husband Rajiv and later during campaign trial as Congress president. Her mother-in-law Indira drew her on her Kashmiri Pandit legacy rather than professing her husband Feroze’s Parsi faith. Indira was particularly drawn to Tirupati and was close to yoga guru Dhirendra Bramhachari.

After losing to Janata Party, Indira went to seek blessing of famous Hindu seer Devraha Baba who'd bless devotees by placing his feet on their heads. In the next election, Indira won emphatically with the "hand" as the Congress symbol.

Though Jawaharlal Nehru was an agnostic, “Pandit” was prefixed to his name. He talked of a scientific temper and on matters such as reconstruction of Somnath Temple, was in conflict with Sardar Patel. However, for the people he was simply “Pandit ji”. Which left no scope for nuanced agnostic, atheist arguments before people.

But things changed in UPA-I and UPA-II with Sonia as the force behind the ruling dispensation and then prime minister Manmohan Singh claiming Muslims had first right over natural resources. Then you had, among other things, Rahul telling the American envoy that Hindu terror or saffron terror was a greater threat to India than the terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba.

From his trek to Kedarnath in 2013, temple-hopping in Uttar Pradesh including Ayodhya (though avoiding the Ram Temple-Babri Masjid site) and visiting over two dozen temples in Gujarat and numerous mutts in Karnataka, to his proposed trek to Kailash Mansarovar, Rahul has come a long way in professing his Hindu faith.

The Congress’ thrust is to portray Rahul as pro-majority without appearing to be anti-minority. Whether this will yield desired electoral dividend is an open question.

Consider this: From what Rahul said at Jan Aakrosh rally, it appeared he took the decision to trek to Kailash Mansarovar in a moment of deep crisis, when he was faced with the possibility of an air crash. One simply doesn't travel to Kailash Mansarovar at any time. All pilgrims have to register with Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) within a designated time period. For variety of reasons, registration with MEA is mandatory. The MEA website goes into lengthy details about the journey, the route and registration process.

This year’s yatra commences from 8 June and will end on 8 September. The registration process began on 20 February and ended on 23 March. There are two routes for this yatra: Through Lipulekh Pass (Uttarakhand), which takes three week of trekking and through Nathu La Pass (Sikkim), which is motorable.

From Gangtok, the route passes through scenic places such as Hangu Lake, the vast landscape of the Tibetan plateau and takes around 18 days. For both routes, one has to undergo three days of preparatory exercises and orientation courses in Delhi.

If Rahul decided to go there immediately after conclusion of Karnataka election on 12 May, much ahead of the date Kailash Mansarovar Yatra is opened for general public, he and his office surely must have negotiated with the official agencies concerned for special permission and necessary arrangements en-route.

But then Rahul is no ordinary pilgrim trekking to Lord Shiva’s abode at Kailash Mansarovar and his requirements are also not ordinary.


Updated Date: Apr 30, 2018 20:56 PM

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