Why the RSS and YSRCP are against TDP’s assembly ticket to a Dalit Youtuber

The TDP’s decision to allocate an Assembly election ticket to Rajesh Saripalle, popularly known as Rajesh Mahasena P Gannavaram, has irked many. The YSRCP, JSP, TDP, and the BJP have been doing everything in their power to have Rajesh withdraw his candidature.
Rajesh Mahasena
Rajesh MahasenaFacebook/Durga Prince Raj Bandi
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When the Telugu Desam Party–Jana Sena alliance in Andhra Pradesh released its first list of candidates on February 24, it included popular anti-caste YouTuber Rajesh Saripalle, commonly known as Mahasena Rajesh, as a TDP candidate. But a week later, on March 1, Rajesh declared that he was willing to refrain from contesting. His candidacy had triggered opposition not just from the YSRCP,  but also from a potential TDP ally in the state – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — as well as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and various Brahmin caste associations. 

Objections were raised over Rajesh’s earlier takes on politics, including caste discrimination, with the RSS mouthpiece Organiser terming him as “anti-Hindu”. Protests and instances of vandalism also erupted in the BR Ambedkar Konaseema district, Visakhapatnam, and other parts of the state. 

Rajesh, who belongs to the Mala SC community, runs a YouTube channel called Mahasena Media, with the stated aim of preserving Dalit rights. On the channel which currently has over 7.17 lakh subscribers, he regularly posts videos with political commentary, frequently criticising various political parties, especially in relation to caste and caste atrocities. In recent years, he has mainly gone after the ruling YSRCP, often speaking of its leaders including Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in an offensive tone. 

Rajesh joined the TDP in February last year and last week, was given a ticket to contest from the P Gannavaram (SC reserved) constituency in Dr Ambedkar Konaseema district, which witnessed caste riots in 2022 over the naming of the district after BR Ambedkar. The announcement did not sit well even with TDP supporters in the constituency and across the state. It caused such a stir that the TDP office in Ambajipeta town was vandalised. In Visakhapatnam, a group of Brahmins staged a protest at the TDP office against the party's decision to field Rajesh. 

Mahasena Rajesh – a popular, provocative Dalit voice

Rajesh has been vocal about the caste atrocities in the state on YouTube for over six years now. In the 2019 Assembly elections, he supported the YSRCP vocally but was not given any importance after the party came to power with a big majority.

He has often made severely critical statements on Hinduism and caste hegemony on his YouTube channel Mahasena Media. The BJP in Andhra has often claimed (without any evidence) that Dalits in the state are forcefully being converted to Christianity, particularly after Jagan – a Christian – became the CM. Amidst such claims, Rajesh, who is considered a prominent anti-caste figure in the community, came to be portrayed as an anti-Hindu leader by right-wing groups. It is worth noting that while the BJP has not been able to furnish any satisfactory evidence for its claims of forced conversions, Dalit Christians in the Godavari basin and across the state continue to face caste discrimination even after conversion. 

Rajesh’s name on the list caused ripples not just in Konaseema, but even 200 kilometres away in Visakhapatnam. On March 2, Brahmin community leaders staged a protest at the TDP office demanding to withdraw Rajesh’s candidature.

“Rajesh is a stupid man who makes comments against Hindu gods and Hinduism. He encourages men to elope with dominant-caste women. He should apologise to our women,” one of the protesters told RTV. In a clarification video, Rajesh said, “I only said I would protect inter-caste couples who want to marry. I did not encourage anyone to elope. Those who say they would kill inter-caste couples are right and I am wrong?”

Another protestor said, “Mahasena is not a big party, it does not have any value.” Referring to the protesting Brahmins as “Brahmin Sena”, she said that there was a “standard party (referring to the BJP) that stands by our values.” Referring to Mahasena, she said, “These small groups will not be seen anymore.”

Though there are speculations that it was the BJP that asked TDP to reconsider its decision over Rajesh’s ticket, TDP sources denied the allegation. “Rajesh is willing to withdraw his candidature but the party is yet to take a decision,” the source said. 

After his candidature was announced, the ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) social media handles were set on a task. Old videos where Rajesh slammed Chandrababu Naidu and Pawan Kalyan were circulated. Videos in which Rajesh critiqued mythological stories and spoke in support of intercaste marriages were made viral, branding them as objectionable. Prime-time debates were held on mainstream TV channels including Sakshi (owned by CM Jagan’s family) with BJP leaders calling Rajesh anti-Hindu. 

In the video clip shared by an account that claims to be a supporter of YSR, Rajesh is heard questioning Pawan Kalyan’s decision to partner with Chandrababu Naidu for the elections. “How can you support Naidu, who allowed the Karamchedu caste violence to occur?” Rajesh says in the video. The Karamchedu massacre in which a group of Kamma landlords murdered six Madiga (SC) men,  took place in 1985 under the TDP government when NT Rama Rao was Chief Minister, and Naidu was a TDP leader.

A video of Rajesh comparing Mother Mary and goddess Parvathy was widely reshared by many, including by the Telangana BJP’s social media in-charge Suman Komarraju. The RSS-run magazine Organiser quoted Suman Kommaraju and other Hindu activist accounts in a piece that claimed that Rajesh’s channel contains “hate speeches against Hindutva and Hindu girls.”, while adding that Rajesh is a practising Christian. However, the same article also refers to a video in which Rajesh questions the accumulation of wealth by pastor Satish. Pastor Satish is the founder and owner of the Calvary Temple Foundation Church, a megachurch based out of Hyderabad.

But what caused the most stir is possibly Rajesh’s comments offering support to inter caste couples. In one of the videos from several years ago that is being circulated now, Rajesh said, “If anyone marries an upper-caste woman, call me, I will give you protection. If needed, we will send you to Dubai or Kuwait. We will face those who are opposing you. Our brothers from the community  will pool money and give you Rs one lakh.” According to Rajesh, this clip was made after  24-year-old Pranay, a Dalit from the Mala community was hacked to death in Telangana in 2018. The horrific caste killing was plotted by Pranay’s dominant caste father-in-law Maruthi Rao who hired henchmen to murder him.

Read: ‘Father’s love’: How some Telugu channels used Maruthi Rao's death to defend caste killing

Defending his various statements under scrutiny now, Rajesh said that his criticism of Jana Sena and other parties was all part of a healthy political debate. He also said that his statements being painted as anti-Hindu were only questioning caste atrocities, and not meant as an insult to any religion. “Over the past five years, I have refrained from criticising the BJP too much, as I saw the YSRCP as a bigger, immediate threat. But even BJP members are opposing the decision to give me a seat… What era are we in?” Rajesh asked. 

He said the opposition to his candidature was evidence of the continuing oppression of Scheduled Castes and an insult to his community. 

On March 1, Rajesh announced that he would withdraw his candidature if the TDP approved. The controversy around Rajesh’s candidature is not merely political, but also reflects the caste dynamics of the Konaseema region.

Konaseema is dominated by the dominant-caste Kapu community members. Kapus in Andhra believe that though they are dominant population-wise, they lack significant political representation and have also been demanding reservation. Jana Sena Party leader Pawan Kalyan, who is a Kapu, is currently the most prominent politician from the community in Andhra Pradesh. 

In May 2022, violent protests erupted in the state, opposing the Andhra Pradesh government’s decision to rename the Konaseema district after Dr BR Ambedkar. The perpetrators of the mob violence mainly belonged to members of the dominant caste Kapu community as well as the Other Backward Classes (OBC) communities of Settibalija and Nagavamsam, who protested the name change over what was perceived as their anger towards Dalits and their social mobility in the region. Around 242 people were booked for the ugly caste violence, but the YSRCP government decided to drop the cases. 

A year ago in February, Rajesh joined TDP in the presence of Chandrababu Naidu at a public meeting. His followers, mainly young Dalit men, refer to themselves as ‘Mahasena’, and flocked to the meeting in support. A prominent, often provocative anti-caste voice, Rajesh’s entry into TDP did not create any ripples immediately, but his candidature has caused discontent even within the party. With Naidu yet to express support for Rajesh, political observers have called his nomination merely tokenistic to attract Dalit votes, and not a meaningful step towards Dalit representation in the party. 

Inclusion or tokenism?

“Rajesh is a vocal Dalit leader. Any party led by dominant castes would mainly want to use members of oppressed communities to merely mobilise Dalit votes for its dominant caste leaders. This incident has proved that only tokenism is possible in such parties. Naidu said he heartily welcomed Rajesh when he joined the party. Why are some people (affiliated with the same party) then making it an issue after the party supremo himself announced his candidature?” asked political analyst and Andhra Pradesh Journalist Forum chairman CH Krishnanjaneyulu. 

Krishnanjaneyulu further said that the series of incidents raised several questions on caste politics in Andhra. “Why are all parties afraid of a YouTuber's candidature? Why is the party (TDP) unable to command the party activists? There is Goshamahal BJP MLA Raja Singh who makes communal speeches. Have these members protested on the streets to not allocate him a ticket or has BJP refrained from doing so?  This is upper caste pride and hate against the oppressed communities being vocal.” 

In reaction to protests and media campaigns, Rajesh said, “If there is so much opposition, I will not contest elections. Dominant caste politicians make casteist remarks and no one protests against them. But here, I am not worthy to contest according to some people. I have read that Dr Ambedkar faced caste discrimination and untouchability. I am facing similar caste discrimination now. I won’t forget how my community is being mistreated even today.” 

On Sunday, March 3 Mahasena Rajesh released a video on his YouTube channel apologising to the Brahmin and Hindu groups of the state. “I clarified why I had to make those statements. If I hurt anyone, please forgive me and bless me,” Rajesh said. 

Andra Malyadri, state general secretary of the anti-caste organisation Kula Vivaksha Porata Samithi (KVPS), told TNM that the incident reflects how Dalits are often turned into scapegoats in politics. “He is a victim of injustice by Hindutva groups. It is a political game in the guise of humanism led by bigoted, dominant-caste parties. It is an example of Dalits being scapegoats for them to attain power,” he remarked.

With inputs from Anjana Meenakshi

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