NEW DELHI: As Rahul Gandhi continues his temple run and the Congress promises the setting up of cow shelters in its manifestos, PM Modi hit out at the Congress for seeking votes on the plank of religion.


The Congress manifesto in Madhya Pradesh read like a mission statement for Hindutva, with the party promising the setting up of Gaushalas (cow shelters) in every district and vowing to undertake the commercial production of ‘gaumutra' (cow urine) and 'kanda' (cowdung cakes). The party’s manifesto in Rajasthan takes this agenda forward, specifically mentioning the setting up of a go-char (cattle grazing) land development board and the upgrading of existing gaushalas which “might have been ignored by the BJP government.”

The Congress’ Rajasthan manifesto also promises the revival of Sanskrit, and outlines plans to promote the language in schools. The party promises the development of ‘Vedic Sanskar’ (perfection, refinement, education, institutions) and says that an education board will be established for the propagation of Vedic values.

The party’s actively championing the ‘Hindutva’ card began with Rahul Gandhi’s temple run during the Gujarat and then the Karnataka elections, and has continued since, with posters depicting the Congress President as a ‘Shiv Bhakt’ plastered all over Madhya Pradesh.

For the first time, Congress manifestos in the states openly speak of the development and upkeep of Gaushalas. The Madhya Pradesh Congress manifesto had various overtly religious promises, such as the development of the ‘Ram path’ (the legendary or mythical route followed by Ram) and the recognition of holy rivers as ‘living entities’.

Rahul Gandhi went as far as to say “the Congress is a party of Hinduism,” and while he was quick to add “not of Hindutva,” very little now appears to separate the two.

Both the Congress and the BJP have made cow politics central to their manifestos this election year, even as India records the highest number of lynching incidents targeting Muslims and Dalits since 2014.

While critics have labelled the Congress’ decision to pander to the large Hindu voter base as ‘soft Hindutva’, there is little that distinguishes it from the (hard?) ‘Hindutva’ the BJP openly propagates.

Rajasthan has seen a huge increase in lynchings targeting Muslims in the context of cow politics. A few well known cases include those of Abdul Gaffar Qureshi in Nagaur district in May 2015, Pehlu Khan in Alwar in April 2017, Zafar Khan in Pratapgarh in June 2017, Ahmad Khan in Dantal in September 2017, Ummar Muhammad in Fahari in November 2017, Talim Hussain in Alwar in December 2017, Muhammad Afrazul in Rajsamand in December 2017, and Rakbar Khan in Alwar in July 2018.

The Congress’ shift toward Hindutva has seemingly drawn the BJP’s ire. Witness the spectacle of PM Modi recently hitting out at the Congress for seeking votes on the plank of religion.

“The Congress party now wants to be the custodian of Hindutva, but remember, this is the same party that had told the Supreme Court that Lord Ram is a fictional character,” said Modi at a rally in Jodhpur yesterday. The people of Rajasthan want development, he added.

"When Congress was in power, it gave it in writing to Supreme Court that "Bhagwan Ram ka koi aitihashik praman nahi hai (There is no historical evidence of Lord Ram's existence). Unhone kaha yeh ek kalpanik patra hai (They said Ram is a fictional character). Ab yeh mujhe pooch rahe hain ki Modi ko Hindutva ka gyan hai yah nahi (Same people are now asking if Modi understands Hindutva or not)."

"Now when the elections are approaching, they say Modi doesn't have any knowledge about Hinduism. Should Rajasthan vote over Modi's knowledge of Hinduism?" the prime minister added. Should Rajasthan vote for bijli, paani, sadak (electricity, water and roads), or for Modi's knowledge of the religion?"

As the BJP and Congress both openly pander to the majoritarian Hindu vote, the Muslim voter is increasingly sidelined. The BJP has put up only one Muslim candidate for the 2018 Rajasthan Assembly, with the Congress figuring better at 15, but still nowhere near to according a proportional representation to Muslims in its candidate selection.

Muslims form some 10 percent of the state’s population. The 2013 Rajasthan Assembly had only two Muslim MLAs out of 200. Both were from the BJP.