What’s Religion Got to Do With It? The Case of Rahul Gandhi


What’s Religion Got to Do With It? The Case of Rahul Gandhi

Illustration: Palak Bansal

“Will India ever know if RaGa is a Hindu, Christian, Parsi, or Atheist?” ran a needlessly provocative homeplate of Bhupendra Chaubey’s prime-time debate last night, showing the priorities of the media in a nation where fathers are judges die mysteriously. Far from covering the explosive news story of Justice Loya’s death, Chaubey and his brethren went down an investigative rabbit hole, carefully bringing up religion and definitely not trying to stir up communal tensions in the run-up to the elections in Gujarat, a state famed for being a Hindutva laboratory.

On most days, I don’t think of myself as an idiot, so I understand that religion plays a major part in India’s vote-bank arithmetic, in the same manner as caste does. But when the talk of the ruling party has been “vikas” for so long, it’s weird to see its lapdogs in the media hold debates along religious lines again and again, most recently with Padmavati and the Hadiya “love jihad” situation. But a question I keep returning to is, why the fuck is religion still a major talking point, especially that of Rahul Gandhi?

If the man was Christian or Muslim, would bhakts consider him less stupid? And if he had been more overt in his Hinduism, would they have thought him to be smarter? The country’s obsession with political religiosity is weirdly similar to the Birther Movement in the US, where many conservatives questioned Barack Obama’s lineage, and even his birth certificate, peddling stories of his Islamism. The person who emerged as a star of this random, Fox News-peddled Islamophobia was none other than Donald Trump. Time and time again, Trump questioned Obama’s birth, sending out dog whistles to Islamophobes. Now as President, he still brings up the conspiracy theory when things aren’t going his way, like he did just this week.

The BJP, feeling their control escape them, are back at religion, diverting us from the elections which should be a referendum on PM Modi’s development plank.

This brings us back home, because things seemingly aren’t going the way the BJP would’ve wanted, as Rahul Gandhi is apparently ascendant in Gujarat, finally coming into his own as a politician, and his visiting temples in the state is just a smart political move. The BJP, feeling their control (if only a sliver) escape them, are back at religion, diverting us from the elections which should be a referendum on Prime Minister Modi’s development plank. And the likes of Bhupendra Chaubey are bringing about the new narrative, sowing doubt in devout voters on prime-time TV.

The Congress agrees with me on the point that religion has no place in Indian politics, at least on the surface. Party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala stated that the BJP should not bring the discourse down to this level. Unfortunately, he also managed to squeeze in the fact that RaGa is a “janeu dhari Hindu” in the same statement. This is such a sweet country, where parochialism is countered with even more parochialism. The Congress’ philosophy can be distilled to the argument: “Don’t worry, Rahul’s as Hindu as they come. Oh BTW, that shouldn’t matter, but if it does, check out this sweet sacred thread.”

It’s a fairly low ground to take, and all it does is plunges the voter even further down the religion vortex. And that’s the absolute opposite direction that the leaders of this country are supposed to take them.