Apparently seeking to showcase the Congress' soft Hindutva, Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday offered prayers at four temples in Gujarat before wrapping up his three-day visit to the poll-bound state, a move his party
said was aimed at countering the hardline Hindutva of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
However, the ruling BJP took a dig at Gandhi, saying the Congress vice president was visiting temples as his party has failed to win elections in the state for long time.
In New Delhi, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram deprecated attempts at reading any political meaning into Gandhi's visit to temples.
Gandhi, who had kicked off his tour after offering prayers at the Dwarkadhish temple on Monday, resumed his road show on Wednesday by trekking up the famous Chotila temple in Surendranagar district.
Starting his tour from Rajkot, Gandhi came to Chotila, the first stop, and began the steep climb immediately. He climbed around 1,000 steps in about 15 minutes without a break.
After he had offered prayers, the priests apprised him of the importance of the shrine.
The Congress leader climbed down the stairway in another 15 minutes, greeting devotees on his way back.
In the evening, Gandhi visited Khodal Dham temple in Kagvad village to offer prayers to Khodiyar Mata, the reigning deity of the Leuva Patel community. A section of Patels are up in arms against the state's BJP government over their demand for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions.
On his arrival, Gandhi was greeted by a large number of Patidars, who chanted their signature slogan, 'Jai Sardar, Jai Patidar' to welcome the Congress leader.
On his way to Jetpur from Kagvad, Gandhi also paid a visit to a temple dedicated to Dasi Jeevan, revered by Dalits and Buddhists.
He also made an unscheduled visit to another shrine -- Jalaram temple -- in Veerpur in Rajkot district.
"I don't think you should read political meaning into that. I think there is much else that is happening in his visit to Gujarat. I think we should focus on that," Chidambaram said in the national capital.
"We have always held that each one is entitled to practice his own faith, we treat all faiths equal. That is the position of the Congress party. From the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, that is the stance of the Congress party," he said, while dismissing suggestions that the temple visits were an attempt to woo Hindu voters.
Commenting on Rahul Gandhi's visit to temples, Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said the party was deliberately projected as anti-Hindu by the BJP and the RSS.
"Rahul Gandhi's visit to various temples during his tour is aimed at countering the hardline Hindutva campaign of BJP and RSS," Doshi said.
"The RSS and BJP have deliberately tried to portray the Congress as anti-Hindu, which is not true," he said.
AICC spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil said, "Our idea of secularism is different from them (BJP), as we visit religious places of all the faiths. This is nothing new. Our former PM Indira Gandhi used to do the same."
However, a state BJP leader said Gandhi was visiting temples as his party was not winning elections.
"Rahul Gandhi has started visiting temples and shrines as his party is not winning elections in any state," state BJP spokesperson Raju Dhruv said.
On Tuesday, Gandhi also attended a garba event organised by MLA Indranil Rajyaguru in Rajkot and performed 'aarti' in front of the idol of goddess Durga.
"The day ends well with garba in Rajkot," the Congress vice president had tweeted.
On his way from Chotila to Kagvad, Gandhi addressed people at some places. In his speeches, he promised that the Congress would waive all farm loans within 10 days of assuming power after the elections, which are due later this year.
In the last two days, Gandhi repeatedly attacked the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on GST, note ban and farm polices.
He had also invoked Sardar Patel's legacy to woo the Patel community ahead of the crucial state polls.
Gandhi had also expressed confidence about his party winning the Assembly elections, claiming that there was a strong undercurrent in favour of the Congress in Gujarat.
IMAGE: Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi visits Chamunda Mata temple, Chotila in Surendranagar on Wednesday. Photograph: PTI Photo