New Delhi, Oct 8: The Congress' dismal performance in the 2014 General elections in which it was reduced to 40 odd seats in the Lok Sabha has forced the party to totally rework its strategy for 2019.
One part of this new strategy is to build a strong narrative around Rafale deal, Modi government's handling of the economy, mob lynchings, increasing polarisation and intolerance etc to counter the BJP. The other part is what is being called as 'soft Hindutva' approach which is aimed at sending across a subtle message to the voters that 'Congress too is pro-Hindus'.
This 'soft-Hindutva' strategy is a well thought out plan because Congress wants to ensure that the BJP cannot lay sole claim on the Hindu vote bank.
Whether it is Rahul Gandhi's 'Shiv Bhakt'-'Janeu Dhari' claims or the recent Mansarovar Yatra, the larger message that the Congress is trying to send is that the Congress cares as much about the Hindus as the BJP does. Rahul has been trying for quite sometime now to send a larger message of being a devout Hindu as part of Congress' soft Hindutva strategy.
Congress was largely seen as leaning towards Muslim appeasement and this is what cost them 2014. Now they want to shun that image. They do not want to be seen as anti-Hindu, a political observer told OneIndia
Rahul being described as 'janevudhari' shiv bhakta by the party clearly shows a shift in Congress' strategy. They had taken Hindu votes for granted and it is something they are realising now, said another political observer.
It is known for decades that Congress sees Muslims as their traditional vote bank. But in recent times, several regional parties like the Samajwadi Party, AIMIM, RJD and to some extent the BSP are also wooing the Muslim voters. Gone are the days when the Congress could claim that Muslims would vote for them and this has left the grand old party worried.
During the Gujarat and Karnataka elections, Rahul was seen in temples and at one time even wore a rudraksh. The party had said Rahul and his family were Janayeu dhaari. Rahul reportedly made around 30 visits to temples during his campaign trail for Gujarat Assembly Elections 2017. In September, he went for Kailash Mansarovar Yatra which was in line with his "I am a Shiv bhakt" claims.
This strategy may work for Congress provided that the traditional Muslim voters stay with the Congress and if Rahul's antics strike a chord with the section of Hindus who are disenchanted with the Modi rule. But then, there also a risk that Rahul is taking.
What if his so-called Hindu appeasement temple sprees and 'Shiv Bhakt' claims do not go down well with the Muslims. It is not that Rahul has not been trying to woo the Muslims, but there is a possibility that his over-enthusiasm about soft Hindutva may leave the minorities irked.
It appears that the BJP is not very comfartable with Rahul's new 'Shiv Bhakt' avatar. BJP is not very comfortable on Congress attempting to poach voters in its territory, a veteran journalist said when asked about Congress' so called 'Soft Hindutva'.
Union Minister Giriraj Singh on Oct 1 lashed out at Rahul Gandhi and said that his visit to Shiva temples and Kailash Mansarovar is nothing but purely a "political gimmick". A few months back, BJP leaders had also asked Rahul to clarify his religion.
While it is clear that Rahul is aiming at both Hindu and Muslims voters, what he ought to keep in mind is that he cannot take Muslim votes for granted. Recently, at a function of an Urdu Daily, Rahul had reportedly said that Congress is a party for Muslims. A row erupted when this issue made headlines. Congress tried to shirk away from the controversy and did not make it clear if Rahul had said such a thing or not. BJP is too shrewd a party to not capitalise on these kinds of issues. So, Rahul must tread the path he has chosen carefully or it will all boomerang so badly that Congress would find itself in a position from where it would be hard to recover.