Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was at the centre of a raging controversy on Wednesday after his name was seen to have been entered in a register for “non-Hindus” during a visit to Somnath temple. Rahul’s visit to seek Lord Shiva’s blessing at the famous temple flared into a major row as he was put down as a “non-Hindu” along with Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel.
Non-Hindus are allowed into the Somnath temple but have to sign a register before doing so. BJP demanded Rahul specify his religious identity while Congress claimed it was a forgery.
The issue snowballed on social media, with #Rahul_Ka_Dharm_ Kya and #SomnathTemple emerging as top trends. Temple authorities distanced themselves from the controversy, insisting that there was no wrongdoing. Somnath temple trustee P K Laheri told TOI, “The Congress media coordinator made the entry for Ahmed Patel and Rahul Gandhi as ‘non-Hindus’. How can we explain it? Congress leaders are best placed to tell why such an entry was made in the register.”
The row broke out on a day when PM Narendra Modi mocked Rahul’s temple trips as hypocrisy, saying his great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru had opposed the reconstruction of the Somnath temple, which is believed to have been destroyed several times, including by Mahmud Ghazni. “If there was no Sardar Patel, the temple in Somnath would never have been possible,” Modi said, arguing that Rahul’s visit was at odds with his family grandee’s views.
Rahul’s campaign has included visits to temples seen as intended to counter BJP attacks that Congress is deliberately insensitive to Hindu sentiments, preferring to cater to minority vote banks. Sensing the damaging potential of the Somnath controversy, Congress stressed on Rahul’s Hindu affiliation as well as his Brahmin roots as ascion of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
BJP said Congress needed to explain the entry in the register for non-Hindus instead of blaming it. “Congress says BJP has done it all. Manoj Tyagi is Congress’s media coordinator, it is his signature on the register and the names are of Congress leaders. How is it then a BJP conspiracy?” BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra asked. Patra said Congress and conspiracy were synonyms.
“When a Congress worker is naming Rahul Gandhi as ‘non-Hindu’ in a temple register, how does it become a BJP conspiracy? We are not bothered by what is Rahul’s religion but why is there so much ambiguity about his religion? Why is Rahul not specifying his religion?” Patra further asked. Rahul has visited over 20 temples during his recent Gujarat visits, which began with the four-leg “Navsarjan yatra” from September-end.