New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, whose party has long assailed the ruling BJP for entwining politics and religion, was on Friday seen exhorting people to chant ‘Jai Mata Di’ from a stage in Jammu and invoking his Kashmiri Pandit lineage.
“Jai Mata Di,” he was heard saying, somewhat tepidly with a smile while addressing a congregation of Congress workers, and on seemingly not receiving the desired reaction, he went “Boliye, boliye (Say, say)” before repeating the Hindu chant a little louder and getting a better response.
— ANI (@ANI) September 10, 2021
“I am a Kashmiri Pandit. My family is Kashmiri Pandit. Delegation of Kashmiri Pandits met me and said that Congress implemented many welfare schemes for them but the BJP has done nothing. I promise that my Kashmiri Pandit brothers that I will do something for them,” Mr Gandhi also said.
On a two-day visit to Jammu, the 51-year-old travelled to the Vaishno Devi shrine from Katra on foot on Thursday, with the optics of the pilgrimage clear.
In videos, the Congress MP was seen walking briskly alongside pilgrims on the 14-km stretch leading to the shrine, surrounded by security personnel. Congress workers holding up party flags lined the pathway.
“I have come here to offer prayers to the Mata (mother goddess). I don’t want to make any political comments here,” Rahul Gandhi told reporters who chased him to the shrine. The media was not allowed to take their cameras.
The Congress posted videos in which the MP was seen interacting with pilgrims.
This is his second visit to Jammu and Kashmir since the abrogation in August 2019 of Article 370, which gave special status to the former state. Jammu and Kashmir was divided into two territories.
Critics have pointed to a marked uptick in the Congress leader’s display of religiosity ahead of key elections with moves such as temple visits and disclosures by aides of his Brahmin ancestry. The BJP has called the moves “opportunistic”.
Some like the Communist Party of India-Marxist, which has found itself allying with the Congress in several fronts at the centre and in state elections despite being rivals in Kerala, has in the past labelled these efforts as “soft Hindutva” and a feeble effort match the BJP.
Reacting to Mr Gandhi’s comments on Friday, the BJP issued a statement saying, “Rahul Gandhi very conveniently forgot that the woes of the Kashmiri Pandits were because of the ‘politics of appeasement’ of Congress and like-minded parties. Congress for its petty vote bank politics sacrificed not only the Kashmiri Pandits but also the development of Kashmir.”
“The problems of Jammu and Kashmir are the legacy of the Gandhi family. It was Jawaharlal Nehru who was responsible for the problems of Kashmir… Rahul has yet again done what he’s best at – immaturity and Irresponsibility,” it said.