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Rahul's 20 Minutes In Ayodhya, First Gandhi Visit In 24 Years

NDTV logo NDTV 08-09-2016 Reported by Alok Pandey, Edited by Divyanshu Dutta Roy

Ayodhya (Utta Pradesh): Rahul Gandhi spent 20 minutes in Ayodhya on Friday morning, in the first visit to the Uttar Pradesh temple town by a member of the Congress's first family since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992.

Mr Gandhi, 46, drove straight to the famous Hanuman Garhi temple, where he offered prayers, before meeting the mahant or top priest. He then drove out of town to twin city Faizabad, where he will hold a roadshow.

Mr Gandhi skipped a visit to the Ram temple at the disputed Ramjanmbhoomi-Babri Masjid site, about a kilometre away.

Critics and political rivals have called it a "political visit" as the Congress vice president attempts to lift his party's fortunes in UP, where elections will be held early next year.

They detect a soft Hindutva agenda in the Ayodhya visit with the Congress following a Brahmin-centric campaign in Uttar Pradesh prescribed by election strategist Prashant Kishor, who is designing every move that Mr Gandhi makes on his month-long tour.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi's visit to Varanasi last month had to be cut short before she visited the Kashi Vishwanath temple as she fell ill. Mrs Gandhi, who is like Rahul a member of Parliament from UP, has not visited Ayodhya since 1992, though she has visited Faizabad several times for election campaigns.

Before the Congress leader arrived, Pran Nath Saini, who has sold flowers outside the Hanuman temple for 30 years, said, "This is all politics. Why hasn't anyone from the Gandhi family visited for over two decades?" He predicted that the visit would accrue no political advantage for the Congress.

The BJP's Sidharth Nath Singh pointed out that the Congress, "always accused BJP of playing politics whenever we talked about Ram temple or about going there".

"Please don't bring any politics into this. The Congress stands for all religions," a local party leader Qutubuddin had said on Thursday.

The Congress strategy is UP is to win its original constituencies of Muslims, Brahmins and a section of the non-Dalit Other Backward Castes (OBCs). It had last won UP 27 years ago.

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