Rajasthan polls: Visits to Ayodhya, religious issues form BJP campaign mainstays
Using his election speeches to attack the Congress-led Gehlot government, PM Modi has made it a point to raise religious issues in the communally-sensitive state
On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a mega road show in the walled city of Jaipur, which recently celebrated its 296th founding ceremony. A crowd chanting 'jai shri Ram' and showering flower petals turned up for the show, which tellingly began from the Hanuman temple where PM Modi offered prayers from a distance.
This is the template the PM has followed pretty much everywhere that he has campaigned in for the upcoming Rajasthan assembly elections scheduled for 25 November, offering prayers from afar at temples on the way as his convoy moves through people chanting jai shri Ram.
Using his election speeches to attack the Congress-led Gehlot government, Modi has also made it a point to raise religious issues in the communally-sensitive state, even blaming the Congress for "stopping people from thinking on religious lines", and claiming credit for the BJP for having built the Ram mandir in Ayodhya.
The build-up began early. In September 2022, Modi visited the Amba Mata temple in Banaskantha district of Gujarat adjacent to the Rajasthan border, choosing to travel through the town of Abu Road, about 20 km from the temple. In November 2022, he made a trip to Mangarh Dham, a tribal shrine in southern Rajasthan.
In January this year, he went to Asind in Rajasthan's Bhilwara district to pay obeisance at the temple of the Gujjar god Devnarayan, visited the famous temple town of Nathdwara in May, and the Brahma temple in Pushkar near Ajmer the same month. In October, he visited the Sanwalia temple near Chittorgarh.
“The BJP had planned all these visits with a motive to arouse religious feelings of a certain section of the people, and to intensify its Hindutva agenda,” state Congress spokesperson KC Choudhry said.
Some 40 BJP leaders, including Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and a large number of Union ministers who campaigned in the state have also brought up religious issues at their public gatherings.
Addressing election meetings in both Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Union home minister Amit Shah said the youth would be taken to Ayodhya for a darshan of the Ram temple.
Shah's election speeches in Nawalgarh in Jhunjhunu district and at least two other places have made references to the fact that once the prime minister lays the foundation stone of the temple in January when it opens, the BJP will facilitate a visit by the youth.
Some BJP leaders also pointed out that the state of Rajasthan is "privileged" as it not only supplied stones for the Ayodhya temple, but the carving on the temple was also done in Rajasthan. A large number of workers are involved in building the temple in Ayodhya, so the people of Rajasthan have a "special affinity with Ayodhya" and hence should vote for the BJP, they said.
Meanwhile, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi has been strongly critical of the BJP leaders for invoking religion or caste at election rallies, and said the BJP invokes religious issues to hide the good work done by the Congress government in the state.
She has also said that the Congress' good governance cannot be concealed by raising religious issues, and urged voters to avoid voting based on religious rhetoric, encouraging them to demand answers from leaders who raise religious issues.
Chief minister Ashok Gehlot has also been critical of the state's Opposition leaders for "misleading the people" on religious issues. "These leaders don’t even have an election issue. The BJP should point out the shortcomings of the Congress government, if any. But they are seeking votes by making religious issues out of non-issues,” he said.
Lending his voice to the fray, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi has said the Congress would conduct a caste survey in the state if voted back to power, but the BJP is against the survey because it knows that while more than 50 per cent of India's population belongs to backward communities, only about five per cent actually benefit from government schemes intended for them.
Rahul Gandhi has also said PM Modi changed his tone once the Congress raised the issue of the caste survey, no longer claiming to belong to the OBC (other backward classes) category as he used to do earlier.
In fact, the Congress has consistently focused on the caste issue, with party president Mallikarjun Kharge claiming during the launch of the Congress election manifesto that PM Modi belonged to the Ghanchi-Teli community of Gujarat, and had "stealthily" included it in the OBC category when he was chief minister.