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With Congress President Rahul Gandhi slated to land in Karnataka on February 10 to kickstart his election efforts in the state, there is immense anticipation that he would visit and pray at many temples across the state. Karnataka Congress president G Parameshwara was quoted by the Press Trust of India as saying, “Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi used to visit Sringeri swami. Indira Gandhi also visited many temples in Karnataka. There is no change in our and Rahul’s strategy.” A senior leader of the Congress said that Rahul itinerary is a work in progress and the possibility of him visiting temples, especially in Rashtriya Swayamasevak Sangh (RSS) bastions like Mangaluru and Udupi cannot be ruled out.
“We welcome Rahul Gandhi to visit this temple. We will make special arrangements for darshan and food for over 500 people. We will even organize a special puja for Rahul Gandhi if he decides to offer prayers here”, said Dr Raviraj Shetty, the managing trustee of the Agnidurga Gopalakrishna Temple at Gurpur village, close to Mangalore city in Karnataka. The Agnidurga Gopalakrishna Temple was recently renovated. The temple is devoted to Goddess Durga and is believed to be built at the point of confluence of the nine forms of Durga. Although recently renovated, the temple in its rudimentary form is believed to have been nurtured by local villagers for over 600 years. “Although he is welcome to come anytime, he should definitely come on April 30 when our temple celebrates the annual Vasika Utsava”, added Dr Shetty, who is also a professor of mechanical engineering at Manipal University.
Other temples in the Dakshin Kannada region are also anticipating a visit by Rahul Gandhi. One of them is the Mangladevi Temple in Mangalore. The city and district of Mangalore are named after the presiding deity of this temple. People who work at this temple have fond memories of Rahul Gandhi’s earlier visit. “Rahul Gandhi had visited the temple almost 10 years ago. He was accompanied by a Congress minister whose name I cannot recall “said Dr Dayanand, a clerk manning the counter at the Mangladevi temple. “The management will make special arrangements for Rahul Gandhi’s visit. We make these arrangements whenever a VIP visits the temple. The gates are closed for some time for other devotees so that there is no chaos “added Dr Dayanand. The Mangladevi temple is believed to be over 2500 years old and is dedicated to Goddess Mangladevi. It holds a special place in the annual rituals of the Kadri Yogaraj Mutt in Mangalore. The Kadri Yogaraj Mutt was visited by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath after concluding his ‘Jana Raksha’ yatra in neighbouring Kerala last year. The statewide rallies conducted by Yogi along with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah were held to protest against the killings of RSS cadres in Kerala allegedly by Communist Party of India (Marxist) foot soldiers.
The anticipation is primarily high because millions of Indians witnessed Rahul Gandhi paying his respects at various temples in Gujarat during the election campaign for the recently concluded polls in which the Congress made substantial gains. Rahul Gandhi had visited 27 temples in Gujarat during his extensive campaign and the electoral results of his temple run were impressive. Reports suggest that the Congress had won 18 seats in constituencies where Rahul Gandhi made temple visits. Out of these, 10 seats were previously held by the BJP. If Rahul Gandhi decides to visit temples across Karnataka with the same intensity and frequency as he did in Gujarat, his party would hope to negate some of the anti-incumbency against the Siddaramaiah led Congress government in the state.
Despite being an RSS stronghold, the Congress performed well in the 2013 assembly elections in Dakshina Kannada (which includes Mangalore) and Udupi. It had won 10 out of 13 seats in these districts. The Congress had uprooted the BJP in six of these seats. A test case of the effectiveness of Rahul Gandhi’s temple visit would be the constituency of Sullia in Dakshina Kannada. Sullia is home to much revered Shree Subramanya Temple. One of the most high profile temples in the district, the 5000-year-old Shree Subramanya temple is also considered one of the holiest in Dakshin Kannada; thronged by hundreds of devotees every day. This temple requires all males to remove their shirts, vests and coats before entering. The last time the Congress won Sullia was in 1989. For the last 25 years, the BJP has retained this seat.
If the Congress wants to retain Karnataka, Rahul Gandhi would have to parachute on many more temples than he did in Gujarat. But if it loses to the BJP, the Congress could still take solace in Shashi Tharoor’s assessment of Rahul Gandhi’s temple run at a recent book launch event of his party colleague P Chidambaram. If Tharoor is right, in the times to come, Rahul Gandhi’s new found affinity to temple visits would go a long way in “neutralising Hindutva” across India.