Congress president Rahul Gandhi marked the start of a two-day visit to his parliamentary constituency Amethi in Uttar Pradesh by garlanding a portrait of Lord Shiva. He was welcomed with chants of "bol bam" by more than 100 Congress supporters dressed as Kanwars or devotees of lord Shiva. In mobile footage, the Congress president can be seen wearing a red-coloured scarf and accepting a lord Shiva image gifted by supporters. His forehead was smeared with sandalwood paste and a tilak or a red mark.
Last month, Rahul Gandhi went on the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra or pilgrimage to follow-up on a vow to himself in April, when his plane plunged hundreds of feet and had a close shave during the campaign for the Karnataka polls.
The pilgrimage, which he said was aimed at seeking the blessing of Lord Shiva for the prosperity and success of the country and its people, took about 12 days, according to the Congress.
This is Rahul Gandhi's first visit to Amethi since his Kailash Mansarovar trip.
Across the district, many hoardings scream their welcome for "Shiv Bhakt Rahul Gandhi"; they have been put up by Congress leaders and supporters. Eight months before the 2019 national election, the entire spectacle is being seen as the Congress's serving for Hindu voters.
"We are all shiv bhakts, and that's why many have also chosen to wear the traditional dress worn by kanwads. We all wanted to accord a grand welcome to him after the yatra," said Dilip Kumar Sahu, a Congress worker.
During his two-day Amethi visit, the Congress president is expected to address a meeting of 150 village heads.
Rahul Gandhi's visit to Amethi comes at a time when the party is tentative about a possible place in a grand alliance in UP to take on the BJP in the 2019 polls. The Congress has just two seats in the Lok Sabha, Rahul Gandhi's Amethi and his mother Sonia Gandhi's Raebareli seat.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and BSP leader Mayawati stitched an alliance for recent by-polls in UP, but reports suggest neither party is keen to have the Congress on board for 2019.
Mayawati delivered a snub to the Congress a few days ago by choosing to ally with Congress rebel Ajit Jogi's party for the Chattisgarh assembly elections.