Ahmedabad/Surat: In an attempt to protect Congress party vice-president Rahul Gandhi following the controversy created by his visit to the Somnath temple on Wednesday, party leader Raj Babbar misidentified Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national president Amit Shah as a Jain. The ruling party countered the statement, saying he is a Vaishnav, one of the major traditions within the Hindu religion.

“Amit Shah calls himself a Hindu, but he is a Jain. As far as Rahul Gandhi is concerned, Shiv bhakti has been practised in his home since a long time. Indira Gandhi used to wear a rudraksha, which is only worn by those who worship Shiva,” Babbar said on Friday.

BJP spokesperson Vamal Vyas counteracted the allegation, saying, “Amit Shah is very much a Hindu. To be precise, he is a Dasha Nagar Vaniya, which is a sub-caste of the Vaishnav sect of the Hindu religion. The Congress must verify the facts before making any public statement.”

“Such an irresponsible statement shows that the Congress is trying very hard to win the elections on caste lines, which I don’t think will work with the people of Gujarat,” Vyas said, adding: “In Gujarat, people don’t vote based on caste, but on the reliability of the candidates and the development work they have done.”

The Gujarat elections will be held in two phases on 9 and 14 December, and heavyweights from both parties are currently on the campaign trail in the state.

The statement from Babbar, an actor-turned-politician, came a day after the Congress vice-president broke his silence on the Somnath temple issue, saying his family are devotees of Lord Shiva and that they do not believe in using religion for political gain.

Gandhi, addressing a gathering of party leaders on Thursday, said religion is a personal matter and should be kept that way.

“My grandmother (Indira Gandhi) used to worship Lord Shiva and my entire family does the same. But we keep such things private; we normally don’t talk about it. We believe that religion is personal thing and don’t want to trade on Shiva’s name. We don’t want to make political use of it,” he said.

The entry of Rahul Gandhi’s name as a non-Hindu visitor to the Somnath temple on Wednesday set off a series of allegations and clarifications from the BJP and the Congress, respectively. 

The image of the entry, signed by Congress media coordinator Manoj Tyagi, is a fabrication, the Congress party wrote on its official Twitter handle. Gandhi only signed the visitors’ book, the party said, appending the post with: “Desperate times call for desperate measures?”

Speaking at a rally at Prachi, about 25km from the Somnath temple, Prime Minister Narendra Modi indirectly referenced the issue.

“If there was no Sardar Patel, the temple in Somnath would never have been possible. Today some people are remembering Somanth. I have to ask them: have you forgotten your history? Your family members, our first Prime Minister was not happy with the idea of a temple being built there,” he said.

Modi reiterated this in a tweet later: “Addressed a rally in Prachi. It is indeed puzzling to see certain Congress leaders visit the Somnath Temple when their own family members opposed the construction of a grand Temple as envisioned by Sardar Patel.” (With inputs from ANI)