UNSURE of how to respond to the rising drumbeat of the BJP’s Ram Temple campaign, the Congress in Karnataka is trying to find its way around – and may have landed, in the process, in another jam.
Days after it invited right-wing backlash over an arrest in a 31-year-old case related to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement violence, the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government is now trying to defend an order directing State-run temples to offer puja to mark the consecration of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya on January 22.
The BJP has linked the two, saying the Congress was trying to do damage control over the Hubbali arrest. The Congress’s counter-argument is that it is as much a Ram devotee as the BJP.
The order asking State-run temples to mark January 22 with prayers was passed by the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Department, or the Muzrai Department, on Saturday. It was meant for the 34,563 temples falling under the department, and was quite similar to the BJP’s own nationwide campaign around the temple consecration, involving distribution of holy grains and appeal to hold prayers at nearby temples (dubbed Mantrakshate campaign in Karnataka).
Leader of the Opposition R Ashok hit back the next day, posting on X that the Congress government order was a victory of the devotees of Ram and of Hindu activists: “Finally, Congress has surrendered to Ram Bhakthi… This is a triumph of Hindutva against appeasement.”
The state BJP said the Siddaramaiah government had acted under duress, as “devotees of Ram had pushed Congress to the brink”.
Congress leaders, including Deputy Chief Minister D K Shivakumar and Muzrai Minister Ramalinga Reddy, countered the BJP’s claims.
Responding to media queries during a visit to Kerala on Monday, Shivakumar said: “Ultimately, we are all Hindus.” He also questioned the BJP for “picking and choosing” leaders of political parties to attend the consecration.
Reddy said there was nothing exceptional about holding special prayers at temples on auspicious days and festivals. “To claim that only those in the BJP are devotees of Lord Ram and others are not, is a bit too much. With or without the BJP, the special prayers will go on,” he said.
Shivakumar’s claim that the BJP is using rice distributed under the Congress government’s Anna Bhagya Yojana to give akshat (holy grains) as part of the temple campaign has also sparked a row. Shivakumar had said: “We all keep photos of Shiva and Hanuman at our homes and worship them. There is no need to politicise the issue. The RSS and BJP are giving Mantrakshate. They are distributing Mantrakshate made of Anna Bhagya rice. We are happy about it.”
Hitting out at the Deputy CM, JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy, an ally of the BJP, said: “Has he grown the rice at his farm in Dodda-aaladahalli?”
But the Congress’s Left allies too are uncomfortable over the state government’s move to organise special prayers on January 22, calling it “against the principles of plurality enshrined in the Constitution”.
Dubbing the Congress move as “soft Hindutva” – which many of its well-wishers believe does not help the party electorally — some have even asked whether it was not a religious imposition if prayers were held at Shiva temples for a Vaishnava deity.