Teenmaar Mallanna, a controversial YouTuber and vocal critic of the TRS, joined the BJP on Tuesday, December 7.

YouTuber Teenmar Mallanna joining the BJPTwitter/Bandi Sanjay Kumar
news Politics Tuesday, December 07, 2021 - 15:38

Controversial YouTuber and journalist, Chintapandu Naveen, commonly known by his screen name Teenmaar Mallanna, joined the BJP on Tuesday, December 7. A vocal critic of the TRS, Mallanna has turned into a divisive yet immensely popular figure, best known for his political commentary and satire on YouTube. His disruptive approach to politics has earned him massive online support, particularly for his attacks on the TRS party, which he calls a ‘Dora’ (landlord) party, referring to its chief K Chandrasekhar Rao as a feudal lord. The BJP is now hoping to harness his growing popularity among young voters.

Until recently, Mallanna was imprisoned in the Chanchalguda jail for various cases filed against him. He was in jail for 73 days and booked in a total of 38 cases, out of which six cases were closed after the Telangana High Court’s intervention. After securing a bail in all the other 32 cases, he was released from jail on November 8.  

In the FIRs, which TNM has access to, most of the cases (10) are for speaking in an 'insulting' manner against Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, and his family members, KT Rama Rao and K Kavitha. Among the other cases, two are under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act). The SC and ST PoA case was filed by Nyata Ashok, a former colleague, and one Mahendranath, who had prolonged Mallanna’s jail custody.

Mallanna is not just an online influencer but also a shrewd political tactician. A testimony to his electoral relevance can be had from the biennial Graduate Election for Nalgonda-Warangal-Khammam Graduates’ MLC constituency, held in March this year. Mallanna, as an independent candidate, put up a tough fight against the TRS party and emerged as the main contender, while political party Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS) president professor Kodandram and the Congress candidate was not even in the picture. In the elections, he secured a surprising 83,520 votes, while TRS candidate Palla Rajeshwar remained victorious with 1,11,090 votes. Observers, however, say that Mallanna always had the backing of the BJP.

Garnering over 14 lakh subscribers on his YouTube channel, Mallanna rose to popularity because of a news segment —Teenmaar Mallanna (which is also the name of his character) — where he would come as an old man, appearing to be a shepherd from the village. He would make political commentary in Telangana’s colloquial dialect. His grip over the language and ability to explain the political scenario with satire and humour that could be understood even by lay people made him a popular figure, says Sujatha Surepally, an anti-caste activist. He runs Q News, an independent news channel on YouTube.

While his work is largely viewed as a source of controversy with little basis in fact, his opinion and stance has made him a popular anti-government voice online. His foray into politics happened even as he was hosting the news segment. He initially joined the Telangana Jana Samithi party, founded by professor Kodandram Reddy in 2018, who was a key figure in the Telangana statehood movement. Mallanna later disassociated himself from the party which failed to emerge as an alternative to the TRS. In 2015, he contested the Graduates Constituency Elections on behalf of the Congress party.

His brother Venkateshwarulu had earlier told TNM that an overwhelming number of cases against Mallanna were “political vendetta” by the TRS government. Mallanna was arrested on August 28 this year on the allegations of blackmailing and demanding Rs 30 lakh from Sannidhanam Lakshmikant Sharma, an astrologer from Madhuranagar, Chilkalguda in Hyderabad.

In three of the complaints which TNM went through, Mallanna is accused of insulting the CM by saying that he was not ‘Telangana’s Gandhi but Telangana’s brandy’ (referring to him as an alcoholic), on his news segment Morning News, which airs live every morning on his YouTube channel. Three others were filed by police staff under different stations within Hyderabad commissionerate for making allegations and threats against the Chilkalguda Inspector. Mallanna allegedly challenged the CI, saying, “If you have guts come before me.” All these six cases have been closed after the intervention of the Telangana High Court on October 4, following a writ petition by Mallanna’s wife K Mathamma.  

In three other FIRs, the complaint has been made for drawing a moustache. In a video made on July 27, while going through the newspaper which had advertisements wishing KTR on the occasion of his birthday, Mallanna says that KTR is a porodu (roughly translates to “punk”). He further refers to him as Pulikesi (the fool of a king from the movie Himsinche 23va Raju Pulikesi), and goes on to draw a funny moustache on his face and turns him into a baby by putting an evil eye mark on his cheek, which the complainants alleged amounts to intent to provoke breach of peace.

In September, while Mallanna was in prison, it became evident that he would be joining the BJP as the party backed him and attacked the TRS for imprisoning him. A month later, his wife, Mathamma, wrote a letter to BJP national president JP Nadda, complaining about the TRS jailing her husband on allegedly false complaints, and expressing Mallanna’s interest to join the BJP.

According to Sujatha, “Identifying as a person from the oppressed community, he championed the cause of the marginalised communities by attacking Doras (feudal lords). Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, who is referred to as a Dora, for the caste which he belonged to, constantly came under his attack for his autocratic style of administration. This made several Bahujans support Mallanna.”

“Under the present leadership, the BJP is strengthening itself and marking its presence even in rural districts. The BJP’s victory in Dubbaka, which is a rural district, and the subsequent victory in the Huzurabad bye-poll, is indicative of this phenomenon,” BJP MLA Raghunandan Rao told TNM.

Bahujan and journalistic identity

Mallanna, who belongs to the Munnuru Kapu community, classified as a Backward Class, identifies as a Bahujan. While Mallanna’s decision to join the BJP could be the result of pressure from the mounting cases against him by the TRS, Sujatha believes that he can no longer identify himself as a Bahujan. “The ideology of Phule and Ambedkar is antithetical to the ideology of the BJP, a communal party, which divides people based on caste. People who work for Bahujans under no circumstances can join a communal party. Mallanna has betrayed the Bahujans. He is joining the party for his self-interest,” Sujatha alleges.

Senior journalist Padmaja Shaw maintains that Mallanna’s work doesn’t qualify as journalism. “Getting some secret information and sharing it with political motives is not investigative journalism. His work is all agenda-driven. So I do not think that it qualifies as journalism.”  

Speaking about Mallanna’s charisma, Padmaja says, “Mallanna, like KCR, is an ideological operative. They do not have an ideology. But they invoke public interest in each of their steps. His no-holds barred style of attack, similar to KCR in the same tone and tenor, did get him a following. Rabble-rousers are influential.”

According to political analyst Sudharshan Balaboina, Mallanna could strengthen the BJP ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections. “Mallanna should not be seen as an individual. He should be seen as a representative of a community. Kapus are numerically a significant community in both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana but they could never take up leadership roles. But now the BJP has created hope for them. They are accommodating leaders from marginalised communities, including Dalits, to play an important role in the party,” Sudharshan observes.

Sudharshan says that though he couldn’t establish Mallanna’s connection to the BJP earlier, his affinity for both the Congress and BJP was well known. “As part of the BJP’s reachout to representatives of the Kapu caste, Mallanna could have been that person.”