Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra concluded her three-day campaign run with a visit to the temple town Ayodhya. She became the third generation member of Gandhi family to visit the birth place of Lord Ram ahead of general elections.
Priyanka’s grandmother Indira Gandhi visited the town to campaign for her party candidates in 1967 Lok Sabha elections. And her father Rajiv Gandhi kick-started his poll campaign from Ayodhya for the 1989 Lok Sabha elections and promised a “Ram Rajya” if he won the polls.
Now, his daughter too visited the town ahead of the 2019 general elections, but stopped short of Ram Lalla entrenched in a makeshift structure on the disputed Ram Janma Bhoomi-Babri Masjid site.
But Priyanka Gandhi Vadra sought play her Hindu card to perfection, visiting the historic Hanuman Garhi temple, covering her head with her sari and wearing a traditional chunri. Congress workers welcomed her with posters showing her as a “Devotee of Ram”.
Will acting like a pious Hindu woman, just ahead of the polls, help her win back traditional Hindu voters? Her father’s attempt to woo back Hindus by getting the lock of Babri masjid unlocked and allowing a brick-laying ceremony outside the mosque, boomeranged as his party, Congress, lost the 1989 Lok Sabha elections. Earlier, he was accused of siding with Muslim traditionalists by overturning a Supreme Court judgement in favour of a Muslim woman. But unlocking Babri masjid drove Muslim voters away from the Congress.
Since then, much water has flown in the Sarayu river, on the bank of which is Ayodhya town. The masjid was demolished in 1992 by devotees of Lord Ram. Ram Lalla, the infant deity of Lord Ram, has been placed in a makeshift structure. The Ram Temple movement aimed at rebuilding Ram Mandir (which was allegedly destroyed by Mogul ruler Babur 500 years ago) has catapulted the BJP into the pole position in India’s electoral politics. But it has also divided the society on communal lines.
But what remains the same is the “minority appeasement” tag, which the Congress party finds difficult to shed. Hence the temple runs by Rahul Gandhi (as seen before the assembly polls in five states last year) and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (as seen in her Ganga yatra a few days ago), to attract Hindu voters.
But on her Ayodhya visit, she refused to wade into the Ram temple issue, saying the matter is subjudice. But what is more significant is she even stayed away from the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri masjid site, which is seen as a strategy not to antagonise Muslims, even while playing an overtly Hindu card.
Now, it remains to be seen, whether or not she has succeeded in getting both Hindu and Muslim voters on her side.