Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath recently released a video where he supported the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya and defended the decision to hold a ‘bhoomi pujan’ in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I welcome the bhoomi pujan. Indians have been waiting for this and this is what we all want. This is possible only in India,” said Nath, the first senior Congress leader to openly speak in support of the grand August 5 event.
The statement is surprising at a time when opposition leaders like Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray, both Congress allies in Maharashtra, have questioned the need for a bhoomi pujan function amid a health crisis.
Sources say many younger leaders like Deependra Hooda and Jitin Prasada want the Congress to officially clear its stand on the issue. And they want the party to toe the line taken by Kamal Nath.
Nath, like many Congress leaders, has seen the writing on the wall.
The BJP swept to power in 2014 and 2019 on the cart of Hindutva among other issues. Though the Congress tried to belatedly latch onto a Hindutva agenda, it couldn’t shed the ‘appeasement of minorities’ tag and the BJP used it very effectively to its advantage.
At a recent meeting on UP strategy, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra asked her party leaders for inputs. Almost all of them said the Congress needs to hit the ground running. The Hindutva image of the Yogi Adityanath government gives the BJP a head-start and the Congress has lot of ground to cover.
What helps the Congress is the feedback that the Samajwadi Party has a ‘minority appeasement’ image, and for fear of losing his vote bank, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav cannot be seen as pushing the Ram Mandir agenda forcefully.
“We must not lose out and should spell out our stand on the bhoomi pujan and Ram Mandir. This is important if we want to recover in UP,” a leader told Priyanka.
In fact, after the historic Supreme Court verdict last year, the Congress had openly welcomed the construction of the temple, but has been silent on bhoomi pujan. The Congress has officially not even been invited for the grand ceremony. Many young leaders like Jitin Prasada feel that the Congress should pre-empt the BJP strategy by going to Ayodhya even if not invited.
Younger leaders like Hooda and Prasada who are carving a niche for themselves in the party, understand that the Congress needs to now change its mould. Remaining silent will be playing into the hands of the BJP.
In fact, some at a meeting with Sonia Gandhi made the point that the Congress should not hesitate to take credit for Ram Mandir. Some Congress leaders insist it was Rajiv Gandhi who opened the locks of the Ram Mandir, though historians deny this, saying it was a small crowd which did it while Rajiv Gandhi was silent.
Whatever the case, the fact is that the Congress has burnt its fingers. And with Priyanka in charge, it’s important that the party seek a desperate makeover. During the 2019 general elections, Priyanka, and even Rahul, visited many temples, peddling a Hindutva line.
But as results showed, this was clearly not enough. For starters, leaders feel the Congress must support the bhoomi puja. In fact, some suggest that party leaders should be seen watching it on television sets. Or it may be too late.