The annual assertion of ‘Hindu rashtra’: How RSS strategised Shobha Yatra in Telangana

In Hyderabad, the annual Shobha Yatra - a one-day event - usually begins from Sitarambagh temple which is close to Darussalam, the head office of AIMIM, and concludes at Koti.
Ram Navami procession in Hyderabad with the idol of Lord Rama
Ram Navami procession in Hyderabad with the idol of Lord Rama

In a coordinated fashion, communal violence broke out in at least seven states – Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Delhi, and West Bengal – during this year’s Ram Navami celebrations on April 10. One person from Gujarat was killed in the violence.

Hyderabad was no exception. Alhough the annual Shobha Yatra concluded peacefully, it wasn’t without the customary anti-Muslim hate speeches by the BJP MLA Raja Singh. Singh, who represents the Goshamahal constituency, a BJP stronghold since the 1990s, used the festival to launch his latest tirade and called for an economic boycott of Muslims. This was not the first time either; Raja Singh has been using the Ram Navami Shobha Yatra event to assert that Akhand Hindu Rashtra (‘undivided’ Hindu nation which stretches from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east, along with Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka) would be a reality soon.

In Hyderabad, the annual Shobha Yatra is a seven or eight-hour procession that begins at Sitarambagh temple, which also happens to be close to Darussalam, the head office of AIMIM. It’s nearly midnight by the time it concludes at Koti, a little over two kilometres away . The short route passes through several tightly-packed neighbourhoods that have a significant Muslim population. This year, it was conducted on April 10 amidst strict police vigilance. Fearing violence as the Ram Navami celebrations coincided with Ramzan, around 5,000 police personnel were deployed to maintain law and order. Special units of the police like Organisation for Counter Terrorist Operations (OCTOPUS) and greyhounds were also called in.

The concept of Shobha Yatra – where a procession carries the idol of the Hindu god, Ram – was alien to Telangana a few years ago. It was introduced in Hyderabad in the last decade by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. On the day of Ram Navami, which marks the birth of Ram, Telugu people observing the festival would visit temples where Sita Ram Kalyanam – the marriage of Sita and Ram would be performed. This is very different from what the RSS is presently doing. The RSS are experimenting with a concoction of Hindu assertion and Hindu nationalism through these religious events which “promote Indian culture.” Though relatively a new concept, the annual Ram Navami Shobha Yatras are now one of the biggest events where Hindutva and BJP supporters congregate to show their strength of 'Hindu unity'. 

The Shobha Yatra, a north Indian import, which was first tried in 2010 in Hyderabad, is now being replicated in other districts like Karimnagar and Nirmal where these events are used to make inflammatory speeches. At the Shobha Yatra rally in the communally-sensitive Bhainsa, Adilabad MP Soyam Bapurao also accused Muslims of being “traitors.”

According to the organisers of Ram Navami Shobha Yatra in Hyderabad, when the procession was first held in 2010, only 10,000 people had participated. “Now, over a lakh people participate in it. This is a huge success,” says Bhagwanth Rao, President of Bhagyanagar Sri Ram Navami Utsav Samithi. Rao is also a senior leader of the RSS and the founding member of the Bhagyanagar Ganesh Utsav Samithi, which popularised the procession of the tallest Ganesh idol in Hyderabad.

Speaking to TNM, Bhagwanth says that he was entrusted with the Ram Navami Shobha Yatra as he also successfully accomplished the RSS’s mission to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi in Hyderabad. He admits that it was a challenge to bring the Telugu crowd to the procession as they would be in temples, so the organisers started pushing the Shobha Yatra after 2 pm.

Rao discloses that Shobha Yatra was held in retaliation to Milad-un-Nabi (a celebration to commemorate the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad). “On the day of  Milad-un-Nabi, AIMIM decked up the entire city with the same kind of flags even in Hindu areas. This was very new. What prompted them to resort to this? They had an ulterior motive,” he says.

On February 27, 2010, the AIMIM asserted its religious identity by stringing green flags and buntings over the streets on the occasion of Milad-un-Nabi (this continued till March 30), provoking the RSS to replicate the same with saffron flags on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti, which took place on March 30. “A few years ago, Milad-un-Nabi was not celebrated in Hyderabad. It is not a public festival even in Saudi Arabia, but here, they are occupying roads. That’s when we came up with the Shobha Yatra. We wanted to show our strength and also come together,” recalls M Ramaraju, President of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Hyderabad chapter.

Until 2010, neither the festivities of Milad-un-Nabi nor the Hanuman Jayanti celebrations had history in Hyderabad, according to an article in the Economic and Political Weekly.

Evolution of Shobha Yatra in Hyderabad

The story of Ram Navami Shobha Yatra in Hyderabad would be incomplete without looking into the history of Hyderabad riots in the 1970s and ‘80s and the subsequent show of strength exhibited by the BJP and the AIMIM through Ganesh procession and the Pankah procession respectively. 

While there was no communal violence reported in Hyderabad after the formation of the separate state of Telangana in 2014, the city had witnessed turmoil, including often imposed curfews to maintain peace. The first major communal clash broke out in 1978 following the alleged rape of a Muslim woman named Ramizabee and the death of her husband at a police station. The incident under the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chenna Reddy, turned communal, and violence broke out between two groups. Chenna Reddy, who was implicated with the RSS’ efforts, was the first CM to initiate a centralised procession in the ‘70s during Ganesh immersion in Hyderabad. Since then, communal violence during the procession became an annual affair until 1984, writes Asghar Ali Engineer in Economic and Political Weekly.

Now, every year, after the Shobha Yatra is concluded, a Dharma Sabha (public meeting) is held. However, the first time the procession was taken from Dhoolpet in 2010. “Since the crowd kept growing with each, we had changed the starting venue to Sitarambagh temple,” says an RSS leader. This main procession would be joined by others from the nearby localities like Akashpuri, Begum Bazar, etc.  Typically, the participants in the procession would wear saffron shawls, carry saffron flags and the Indian flag too, asserting nationalism and religion. The assertion of Hindu identity inevitably turns into expressing hatred against Muslims.

The RSS, which has strategised mobilising Hindus, says that they want to promote Daiva Bhakthi and Rashtra Bhakthi (devotion to religion and devotion towards the country) at the Yatra. “Ram is the adarsh purush (ideal man) of our country. So why shouldn’t we celebrate him and our country too,” says an RSS leader. “Our country and [Hindu] religion is divided because of caste. So, we wanted an event that will unify us as one single community. And that’s why we have Shobha Yatra,” adds Bhagwanth Rao.

The RSS, through the Hindu religious events, intends to unify Hindus who, it says, are scattered because of the caste system. They claim that these events are not political but social, and have become instrumental in pursuing its dream of Akhand Hindu Rashtra. As part of it, they have been organizing Hanuman Jayanti Yatra, Ganesh Chaturthi and Ram Navami Shobha Yatra. “Because of us unifying Hindus by keeping caste aside, today, people, like RS Praveen Kumar (State Coordinator of Bahujan Samaj Party, Telangana), who had denounced Hindu gods, are now wearing a tilak and going to temples. Similarly, the Congress leaders are now asserting their Hindu identity,” says Ramaraju of the VHP.

When countered that Raja Singh, an elected representative, is making political speeches endorsing the BJP at the religious event, Ramaraju says, “These events are not political. Raja Singh is participating in the event because he is a Hindu first.”   

RSS unhappy with appropriation by Raja Singh 

Since the inception of Shobha Yatra in Hyderabad, Raja Singh, who was then a corporator from the Telugu Desam Party, has been participating in it. For the past few years, Singh has been getting his own procession from Akash Puri Hanuman temple which would join the main procession. This year, referring to Muslims as “dirt”, MLA Raja Singh said during his speech at the Shobha Yatra rally in Begum Bazar on April 10 that the “dirt has spread” for which the government would soon bring population control measures. Singh added that Akhand Hindu Rashtra will be a reality soon under the helm of UP CM Yogi Adityanath and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.   

“Yogi ji will clean the dirt near Kashi and Mathura,” Singh thundered, referring to the Gyanpavi mosque and Shah Idgah mosque. He said that Yogi Adityanath will demolish the mosques, and in the coming days, “no power can stop India from becoming a Hindu rashtra.”

BJP MLA Raja Singh participating in the Shobha Yatra 

For his provocative and communal speeches, Singh was booked by the Shahinayatgunj police under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) and 505 (intent to incite) of the Indian Penal Code. He was also booked by the Sultan Bazar police for playing loud music, violating the conditions of permission.

While the RSS seems to have achieved its intended objective of asserting Hindu nationalism, some leaders in the RSS are not happy with Raja Singh hogging the limelight. “He is not a member of the RSS. He never was. But today, he is taking away all our credit,” complains an RSS worker. “We want to unify Hindus from all castes, but he is acting solely as a representative of the Lodha community and abusing others. He promised to build the Parashuram temple in Begum Bazar for the Brahmins, but he never lived up to that promise; and instead is threatening them,” he alleges.

RSS’s ‘yatra’  campaign in other southern states

Along with Telangana, the Shobha Yatra has spread to the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh too. While Tamil Nadu so far seems to be immune to it, former BJP Tamil Nadu State President L Murugan, who is also the Union Minister of State for Fisheries and Animal Husbandry and a former RSS member, had experimented with a procession in the name of Lord Murugan, a popular deity in Tamil Nadu. Murugan started the Vel Yatra in 2020, which was similar to the Rath Yatra undertaken by LK Advani to reclaim Ram Janmabhoomi. However, the yatra was a damp squib without many takers.


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