The BJP has announced four phases of padayatra in Telangana ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections, with the first phase ending on October 2.

Bandi Sanjay greeting the public By arrangement
news Politics Monday, October 04, 2021 - 16:22

“Think about whose rule you want in Telangana. 'Ram Rajya', 'Taliban Rajya' or 'Razakars Rajya’?” asked the Telangana chief of BJP and MP, Bandi Sanjay. He was ending the first phase of his statewide padayatra, dubbed as a ‘Praja Sangrama Yatra’, in Husnabad in Siddipet district. The legislator was equating the AIMIM and TRS to the Taliban and Razakars — a private militia who committed several atrocities while defending the Nizam rule. Similar polarising statements about the AIMIM, a Muslim party, and the TRS (while invoking its association with the AIMIM), have been uttered by Bandi Sanjay several times during the course of the padayatra, and also by prominent BJP leaders like Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya who joined him during the walkathon. 

In the run-up to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Elections (GHMC) elections in December 2020, the city witnessed a communally charged political campaign without precedent. At the forefront of the shrill campaign was Bandi Sanjay, who said that a BJP mayor would conduct a “surgical strike” in Old City to “kick out these Rohingyas and filthy sons of Pakistan," and accused CM K Chandrasekhar Rao of having links with “terrorists” (an Islamophobic allusion to the AIMIM) and labelling him as not being a "true Hindu". This approach seemed to have yielded results, with the BJP increasing its share of seats from a mere four wards in 2016 to 48 wards in 2020. So part two was not far behind. 

Laying the groundwork for the upcoming Assembly elections in 2023, and ahead of the imminent Huzurabad bye-poll, leaders across parties have started campaigning, including Congress’s Revanth Reddy, and YS Sharmila — who recently founded the YSR Telangana Party. Bandi Sanjay’s padayatra, which began on August 28 from the Bhagyalakshmi temple next to Charminar, ended on October 2 at Husnabad after 36 days. The Congress had approached the police at the start of the padayatra asking them to restrict the BJP leader, saying his speeches could disrupt communal harmony. 

The padayatra is seen as a powerful political weapon in the Telugu states with emotional value attached, and a belief that it is a sure way to the Chief Minister’s chair. The BJP has announced four phases of the padayatra in the run-up to the 2023 elections. Throughout the first phase of the padayatra, the communal clamouring deployed during the GHMC polls continued, though Bandhi Sanjay did also raise issues related to development and welfare, questioning the implementation of the 2BHK housing scheme and speaking about unemployment, agriculture, education and other concerns. Here are some of the recurring themes in the first phase of the padayatra, possibly one of the biggest efforts by the party to gather grassroots support in the state, ahead of the 2023 election. 

The Bhagyalakshmi temple

Bandi Sanjay launched his padayatra from the disputed Bhagyalakshmi temple, which has become the focal point of the party’s Hindutva politics in the state. The MP had earlier announced that BJP would expand the temple, which is currently a makeshift structure next to the Charminar, considered unauthorised by the Archaeological Survey of India. This starting point has been repeatedly mentioned in most of his speeches, claiming that the BJP had gone to the predominantly Muslim area where AIMIM leaders have allegedly said that even CM KCR needs permission from AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi to enter. “Whose ‘adda’ is the Bhagyalakshmi temple?” he asked at the launch. “In the presence of goddess Bhagyalakshmi, we have broken into the so-called ‘adda’ (territory) of AIMIM,” he said. 

He went on to repeat at meetings across districts that Old City would be reclaimed by Hindus and BJP workers, and that the saffron flag would fly there. He repeatedly referred to the Charminar area as the Bhagyalakshmi temple area, similar to the party’s use of Bhagyanagar to refer to Hyderabad.

Religion-based reservation 

Slamming the TRS for trying to implement a 4% reservation for Muslims under the Backward Classes category, Bandi Sanjay alleged that the move would hurt BC welfare. Addressing a meeting on the eleventh day of his padayatra, he said that BCs would lose out if the reservation for Muslims is implemented. He mentioned names of Muslim-owned mutton shops and jewellery shops, implying that the community has an unfair hold over these businesses. On several occasions, he alleged that the TRS was showing favour to Muslims for a small percentage of votes while “Hindu society is in danger.” 

Speaking on the fourth day in Rangareddy district, he said, “With the greed for 12% votes (from Muslims), if the 80% Hindus are insulted, BJP will not keep quiet. BJP workers will strive for my nation, society and dharma.” Addressing a press meet on day 2, he said, “Simply serving biryani, shorba and boti to the public will not suffice for KCR to win.”

Redistributing Nizam properties to Hindus 

Bandi Sanjay declared during his padayatra that if voted to power, BJP will seize Nizam properties and hand them over to Hindus. “Once we come to power in 2023, the saffron flag will fly on Golconda,” he said on the third day. He repeatedly referred to Golconda as Gollakonda (referring to the Golla and Kuruma shepherd communities) through the padayatra. “Nizam properties will be seized and handed over to Hindu society. Our traditions and sanatana dharma have been insulted and occupied and claimed as Nizam properties. We will not remain quiet,” he said. “CM KCR has pawned the state’s dignity to the Nizams,” he said, alleging that KCR was in favour of Nizams. “This is not just a praja sangrama yatra, it is a Kurukshetra to tear down the new Nizams’ forts,” he said, referring to the TRS government as Nizam rule.  

Population control bill 

During the padayatra, Bandi Sanjay said that the BJP would bring in a population control law similar to one proposed in Uttar Pradesh while addressing a public meeting in Sangareddy district. Speaking about the proposal, he alleged that the TRS government had tried to tweak the two-child norm for candidates contesting the GHMC elections to help AIMIM leaders. “Many AIMIM leaders have more than three kids, they (TRS) want to bring in laws to allow them to contest,” he said. GHMC had reportedly placed a proposal to amend the GHMC Act to remove the norm and placed it before the Cabinet, but it was refused. Claiming that the government had gone back on the idea because of pressure from the BJP, he called it a victory for the party. 

Read: Even stats don't justify BJP's calls for population control law in south India

‘Danger to Hindu society’

Speaking at Kamareddy on day 25, Bandi Sanjay alleged that idols of deities were being destroyed in the district, and that temples were being occupied and turned into ‘kabrastans’ (Muslim cemeteries). Speaking about restrictions imposed by the state government on Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, he said, “To celebrate Hindu festivals, we have to take police, municipal, revenue permission. Hindu society is not in such a helpless situation.” He also made statements saying KCR and his family were ruining Hindu sanatana culture, and questioned if KCR was a ‘real Hindu.” 

“This is Hindu land…In Kamareddy, there is no place for colourful flags, absolutely no place for the green flag. The saffron flag alone must be hoisted here,” he said. He also invoked the Bhainsa communal clashes, blaming it on AIMIM “goondas”, alleging they had looted and destroyed houses. 

Read: 'Them and us': How a 12-year-old communal clash continues to haunt Telangana's Bhainsa

He repeated at almost every public meeting that “if there is an obstruction to Hindu dharma, an insult to Hindu gods, BJP will not tolerate it.” Stating that AIMIM had won five seats in Bihar solely in the name of religion, he said, “With 12% minority vote bank minority consolidation, they won five seats. Here, if 80% Hindus turn into a vote bank, think how many seats can be won.”

“BJP will aid any Hindu family attacked by pseudo-secular people. There is no compromise when it comes to Hindutva. Hindustan ka khana Pakistan ka gana Telangana mein nahi chalega, Hindustan ka shvaas, Pakistan par vishwas Telangana mein nahi chalega. (We will not allow people in Telangana to eat India’s food while singing of Pakistan, believing in Pakistan while breathing India’s air),” he said. He also invoked the revoking of Article 370 and the Ram Mandir verdict as achievements of the BJP in “safeguarding” Hindu society. “BJP will work to ensure that every Hindu in Telangana will be proud of being Hindu,” he said while launching the padayatra. 

‘Taliban ideology’

At the launch, Bandi Sanjay said that the AIMIM follows the Taliban ideology. “The AIMIM with its Taliban ideology and those who support them will be driven out of the state,” he said while speaking of “protecting Hindus.” On another occasion, he said that TRS workers want to fight like the Taliban and Razakars, while BJP workers want to fight like “descendants of Shivaji.” Comparison of TRS and AIMIM with Razakars was a recurring theme throughout the campaign. 

Read: Tejasvi Surya's mention of Razakars in Hyderabad is an attempt to polarise, say historians

In the first phase, Bandi Sanjay covered about 438 km and 35 public meetings, in 19 Assembly constituencies and six Parliamentary constituencies of eight districts including Hyderabad, Rangareddy, Vikarabad, Sangareddy, Medak, Kamareddy, Sircilla and Siddipet. It saw prominent BJP leaders from outside of Telangana like Tejasvi Surya, Prakash Javadekar, and Smriti Irani participating and offering support. In the middle of the padayatra, Bandi Sanjay had also addressed the public meeting organised by the party at Nirmal on September 17, where Union Minister Amit Shah was the chief guest. Though the public meeting was not part of the padayatra, Amit Shah mentioned the walkathon and sought people's support for Bandi Sanjay. It has been declared that he would resume the journey after the Huzurabad bye-poll on October 30.

With PTI and IANS inputs 

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