Pawar’s visit to the temple and the wide media coverage it got show how Maharashtra’s politics has changed. Political parties in the state and their leaders have suddenly discovered religion.
Shiv Sena leaders like Aaditya Thackeray, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s Raj Thackeray and independent MLA Bachchu Kadu have announced trips to Ayodhya. Pawar’s grandnephew, Rohit Pawar, went on a pilgrimage to several holy sites, including Ayodhya, early in May, though he had said the visits should not be seen from a political lens.
Pawar’s visit to the temple came after Raj Thackeray claimed in April that the NCP chief was an atheist and hence did not go to temples. Pawar retorted the next day saying that he does go to temples, but wouldn’t make any fanfare around the visits like others. Friday’s temple visit is seen as being aimed at countering the criticism against him.
There seems to be a competition among politicians to show that they are more religious than the rest, said political analyst Yuvraj
“I remember that Maharashtra did not bat an eyelid when Sharad Pawar, during one of his terms as the chief minister, did not perform the annual puja at Pandharpur during Ashadi Ekadashi, considered auspicious in the state. Pawar had remarked that he was preoccupied with solving the drought situation. He did go the next year after being egged on by his wife Pratibha,” said Mohite.
But now, politicians across the board are compelled to show that they are not irreligious, he said.
“I think all the parties have fallen into the BJP trap and are worried that if they show that they are not religious, they would not be getting votes,” he said. “It is very telling that someone like Pawar who never felt the need to show is now doing this.”
The NCP might claim that Pawar’s visit to the temple was nothing out of the ordinary. However, the party seemed to go to the extra lengths to show Pawar was religious. For instance, Pawar took blessings of the idol from a distance, and NCP Pune leader Prashant Jagtap claimed that Pawar told him that he did not want to take blessing from close to the idol as he had consumed a non-vegetarian meal.
Political parties like the Congress and NCP have been mulling taking the right turns after the BJP came to power. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited a number of temples during the party’s election campaign in Gujarat.