Rahul Gandhi today began his two-day tour of Uttar Pradesh, the first after becoming the Congress President, with a visit to a Hanuman temple en route Amethi from Lucknow.
The Congress president offered prayers at the Churva Hanuman Mandir on the Lucknow-Rae Bareli road hours after landing in the state capital where enthusiastic party workers greeted him with garlands. According to a local party worker Ram Kumar, the Congress leader regularly visits Amethi - his Lok Sabha constituency - and this is perhaps for the first time that he has offered prayers at the temple.
After offering prayers, the 47-year-old Rahul Gandhi, donning a spotless white kurta-pyjama, came out porting a bright vermilion 'tilak' on his forehead.
Today is Makar Sankranti, and the auspicious day has been chosen by Rahul Gandhi to visit Rae Bareli -- his mother's parliamentary constituency, and adjoining Amethi, which party insiders view as an attempt to play a soft Hindutva card to counter the hardline image of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
The Congress leader spent some ten minutes at the temple. The last time he offered prayers at a Hanuman temple was at the Hanuman Garhi temple in Ayodhya on September 9, 2016, becoming the first member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to visit Ayodhya since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.
Hanuman Garhi is about a kilometre from the Ram temple at the disputed Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site. Before darshan at Hanuman Garhi temple, Rahul Gandhi had met Mahant Gyan Das.
His visit to temples is seen in the political circles as an attempt to dump the BJP's criticism that he went temple-hopping during the Gujarat campaign only to garner votes. Rahul Gandhi had visited around 20 temples across Gujarat during the Assembly poll campaign as part of a conscious approach to counter the ruling BJP.
After the results were out, the Congress president prayed at the Somnath Temple. Describing himself as a Shiv-bhakt, Rahul had explained that he was praying for the well-being of Gujarat during these visits to the temples. The strategy paid off as the Congress tally in the state Assembly jumped from 57 in 2012 to 77 and its vote share rose by 2.5 per cent from 39 per cent in 2012 to 41.5 per cent. "We expect that his temple visits in Uttar Pradesh too will pay dividends in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and the Assembly polls in 2022," UP Congress spokesperson Ashok Singh said.