AHMEDABAD: The BJP has little to say about Congress president’s sustained attack on economic issues, but his visits to temples in Gujarat seem to have touched a nerve that has the ruling dispensation visibly cringing in pain.

And rushing with advice to the Congress president telling him what he should, or for that matter should not do, to be accepted by the gods in a temple. Ridicule has not worked, nor has a concerted attempt to communalise the visits by a host of top BJP leaders. Sample the following:

Actor and MP Paresh Rava,the latest to have joined the BJP cacophony of protest advised, ““No objection if you visit temples but if you want to copy Narendra Modi, you must also bow your head at the steps of Parliament building.”

UP Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath said: “What else could be the purpose of a person to offer prayers at a temple who does not even know the difference of postures between puja and namaaz”. And in his view Rahul Gandhi’s “pakhand and dhong (hypocrisy and sham) will not work.”

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan said: “Now, Rahulbaba is visiting Gujarat often because elections are near. He is also offering prayers at various temples. (A person) who has never lifted a puja ki thali is applying big tilak and wearing big garlands, without having knowledge about the great culture of this country. Otherwise, he would not have commented on women [in the RSS].”

Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar Sushi Modi said: “Temple visits to bluff the voters,”

Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel said: “Why is Rahul Gandhi only visiting temple ahead of elections? People know their intentions – they want to get votes by such gimmicks. They have no inclination to devotion, as Rahul had never visited any temple during his earlier trip. We wish that the Congress sheds its pseudo-secularism and respects mainstream Hindutva, but its gimmicks for votes will not work in Gujarat.”

BJP leader GVL Narasimha Rao said: “Aurangzeb has destroyed many temples during his rule. However, when the common people opposed him, he promised to build two or three temples. Alauddin Khalji did the same...and now Rajul Gandhi is going in the same direction.”...””Gandhi;s visis to temples is a dram. Gandhi is trying to mislead the people by embarking on temple visis, which has become a compulsion for the Congress vice-prsident in view of the elections.”

Unfazed, Rahul Gandhi has not allowed this to come in his way and in 50 days has visted 11 temples. The effort has not gone unnoticed in Gujarat with the social media and sections of voters barely reflecting the BJPs ridicule. The common Gujarati sees nothing wrong in the visits, and in fact many are appreciative of Rahul Gandhi’s effort to win over the gods. Significantly, the temple visits have not received flak from Gujarat’s minorities either with local Ahmedabad leaders telling The Citizen, “this is his faith he is free to do what he wants.” The fact that these temples had also been visited by his grandmother, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is no longer a detraction but adds a sense of history to his campaign that the Congress party has no hesitation in propagating.

The BJP thus, has been unable to puncture this Congress card and hence the cacophony of protest. From questioning Rahul Gandhi’s ability to pray, to the way he prays, the BJP top brass has tried it all but in vain. The temple priests have not supported the ruling dispensation in this attempt, and in fact welcomed Rahul Gandhi. For the Congress, in what is a first since 2002, this is a major victory and is being propagated as a ‘connect with the masses’ and not a religious initiative on the ground.

It is being factored in as part of the ‘new’ Rahul Gandhi, with his spontaneous stops at dhabas, his hugs and smiles, his easy friendliness, all that seem to be working at least till now in his interactions with teh Gujarati voters. PM Modi is seeking to counter this with his chai at the polling booth, a huge initiative involving Ministers and the entire BJP machinery, but it lacks the spontaneity that Gujarat seems to be lapping up at the moment. What happens on polling day is still this democracy’s mystery, and that the temple visits will not add to the numbers is almost a given. But when taken as part of the whole make-over, Rahul Gandhi’s stops at the temples does give his campaign an edge, cutting enough to worry the BJP, always possessive about the temple turf.