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Is Sonia-Rahul's Kumbh visit a damage-control bid?

January 30, 2013 00:18 IST

In the midst of the ongoing controversy over Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s remarks on ‘Hindu terror’ and the offensive launched by the Bharatiya Janata Party and other Hindu organisations asking that the home minister be sacked, Congress president Sonia Gandhi will visit Allahabad for the ongoing Kumbh Mela which is currently on and has attracted crores of devotees. Renu Mittal reports.

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is also likely to make a visit to Allahabad with preparations afoot for the visit of the Gandhis to the Maha kumbh which comes every 12 years and is considered to be an auspicious event by devout Hindus.

While Sonia and Rahul are expected to visit Allahabad between February 5 and 9 as the exact dates are still being finalised, it may be recalled that during the last Maha Kumbh in 2001, Sonia had visited Allahabad and had taken an ardha snan (half-dip) and not a full one as is customary, in the Sangam.

That one act had earned her a great deal of goodwill. It helped her softened to some extent the image of Sonia's foreign origin.

And soon after that in 2004, when the elections took place, that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance defeated the Bharatiya Janata Party-led national Democratic Alliance and wrested power at the Centre.

Apart from the controversy over the Hindu terror remarks, the general elections are due next year, where the congress is hoping to beat 10 years of anti-incumbency and return to power at the Centre.

This time around Rahul will not only co-ordinate the election strategy for 2014 but will also lead the election campaign. Congress leaders say it would be in the fitness of things if Rahul also takes a dip during the Maha Kumbh, and like his mother sends a signal that he is also sensitive to Hindu sentiments.

All India Congress Committee General Secretary Janardhan Dwivedi made a quick visit to Allahabad on Monday to do the necessary ground work for the visit of the two Gandhis to take part in the Maha Kumbh. Dwivedi met Swamy Swaroopanand and Avdhesh Giri during the Allahabad visit as part of the preparations.

Sources say that with security being the top concern of both the Congress party and the Special Protection Group, special arrangements are being made for the visit since lakhs of people are bathing in the Sangam daily, and it would be difficult to manage things without troubling the pilgrims, the sadhus who have gathered in large numbers for the holy bath.

Congress leaders say that the nation wide and world wide pictures of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in Maha Kumbh would go a long way in the image projection of the mother-son duo as sensitive to the Hindu religion and culture and diffuse to some extent the campaign being run by the BJP and the sangh parivar that the ruling party is not sensitive to ‘Hindus’ and that is why Hindu terror and saffron terror are words being used to describe terrorist activities by some sections.

Senior leaders of the Vongress feel that the use of the word Hindu by Shinde had not been well received in large sections of the people with Dwivedi making it a point to publicly state that the Congress does not agree with the use of the words Hindu and Kesaria and instead it should have been called Sanghi terror.

Shinde had clarified his statement soon after making the remarks in Jaipur but unfortunately for him, no one appears to have heard the clarification. Hence the need for damage control say party insiders.

Renu Mittal in New Delhi