As the sun set over Kamareddy in Telangana, the town's CSI Church Grounds bore a distinct saffron hue, as controversial Hindu seer-turned-politician Paripoornananda took the stage for his first political address since joining the BJP.
The venue was decorated with massive flex hoardings which welcomed and hailed Paripoornananda, and showcased BJP's MLA candidate Katipalli Venkataramana Reddy. Venkataramana Reddy hails from Demikalan village, from the neighbouring Yellareddy constituency.
The Kamareddy Assembly constituency, known as an agricultural and trade oriented region, was once an epicentre of the naxalite movement.
On Thursday evening, the CSI Church Grounds saw one side occupied by outlets selling fireworks ahead of Deepavali, with the rest of the venue left open for the gathering. A BJP volunteer at the spot said that over 20,000 people were expected to attend the meeting, from more than six mandals in the district. Shortly after, there was a commotion and Paripoornananda arrived.
As he made his way to the stage, a handful of Brahmin priests chanted prayers. Portraits of Swami Vivekananda and Bharat Mata, placed on two chairs on the stage, were hard to miss. As the priests chanted hymns, the seer paid floral tributes to the portraits, before he spread his arms wide to the crowd, who began sloganeering.
After short speeches by four BJP leaders before him, Paripoornananda took the mic amidst cheers of 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' and 'Vande Mataram'. He began his speech with slogans of Bharat Mata, and claimed that he owed an answer to the society, which has protected him all through his life. He said that he chose to begin his political campaign in Kamareddy as he learnt about 'spiritual life' there. The seer narrated that when he was 15-years-old (1987-1988), his parents ‘dedicated him to dharma’ and he joined the Arsha Gurukulam in Kamareddy.
He said that he decided to join BJP as it was a corruption-free and transparent platform. Claiming that he was speaking from his heart, he said, "Modi is a personality without a single stain on him, a man who sacrificed everything for this country and whose family is still living like common citizens.”
He alleged that Telangana caretaker CM K Chandrasekhar Rao chose to go to polls early citing lies, even though people elected him for a full tenure of five years.
There is a threat to Hindus in the state, the seer claimed and told the audience that while TRS wanted to give 12% reservations to Muslims, the Congress wanted to bring a "Jesus state."
"One wants to give 12% reservations to Muslims another wants to bring Jesus state. Are Hindus fools? Will we allow that to happen? Shouldn't we show them?" he asked, provoking the crowd, who cheered loudly.
Paripoornananda was referring to the TRS government’s decision to hike reservation quota for backward Muslims in the state to 12%. The ‘Jesus’ jibe was aimed at Congress leader Uttam Kumar Reddy, who, in a recent meeting, reportedly said that their government would work to ensure reservations in jobs to Dalit Christians.
Paripoornananda also tried to instill fear in people belonging to OBC communities, saying, “Where will they get space to give 12% reservations to Muslims? They have to remove OBC reservation to accommodate Muslims. Reservations should not be given on the basis of caste and religion.”
Stating that the battle in Telangana this time was for dharma and corruption-free rule, the seer also spoke about the time he was externed from Hyderabad.
In July this year, Paripoornananda, the founder of the Rashtriya Hindu Sena, was kept under house arrest at his bungalow in Hyderabad’s Jubilee Hills, before he was banned from entering Hyderabad for six months without prior police permission. The police submitted various videos of his speeches and stated that the seer attempted to create a communal divide, disturbing public peace.
Speaking about his house arrest, Paripoornananda said, "When I was tortured for 18 hours without food and water as I spoke about Rama, the media was silenced and nothing was shown.”
Stating that he would work to ensure that the BJP ‘blooms’ in Telangana, he said, “The south will see the lotus blooming and Telangana will be the door. I will work for it to the best of my strength.”
At the rally, Paripoornananda’s speech seemed to be a hit among the youth who had gathered. Many even rushed to touch his feet and take blessings after the gathering.
Is the situation in Kamareddy in favour of the BJP?
Kamareddy has over 2.15 lakh voters, and while analysts say that the fight is likely to be between Congress' Shabbir Ali and incumbent TRS MLA Gampa Govardhan, the BJP has established its presence with this meeting and Paripoornananda’s speech.
Gampa Govardhan was the chief whip of the TRS in the Telangana Legislative Assembly, and former Minister Shabbir Ali was the Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council.
Thursday's event unveiled the political persona of Paripoornananda, and also indicated that BJP’s candidate Katipally Venkataramana Reddy may have a shot at the seat. Reddy began his political career in Congress as a local body leader and became a Zilla Parishad Chairman in united Nizamabad district in 2009. Several people who gathered for the speech seemed to be curious about what Venkataramana Reddy had to offer.
Rajalingam, a farmer in his early 60s, came from neighbouring Chinnamallareddy village in an auto arranged by a local BJP leader. “Who knows who will come to power now. Shabbir Ali lost his seat long back and he is trying hard to come back, but the BJP candidate is also frequently visiting the villages,” he said.
Dandu Balaiah, another farmer from the same village, said, "They (BJP) want to give loan waiver of Rs 2 lakh, which is lucrative. In KCR's regime, they introduced many schemes but they're not reaching everyone."
Around 40 men from Sangameshwar of Domakonda mandal, most of them farmers, also attended the meeting, stating that they were 'asked' to do so by local BJP leaders.
55-year-old Sakali Chandraiah said that all was not well with the TRS government. Alleging that the state’s Rythu Bandhu scheme was only helping big farmers, Chandraiah said, “Who needs the assistance more? Isn’t it poor farmers? We were given very less, and that too after making several rounds to offices."
When asked if he planned to vote for the BJP, he said that he was not sure yet, and was still observing. When asked about any promises that were made, he said, “We started constructing a temple for our community goddess, but it got stuck halfway. The local leaders told us that they will make sure that the construction is completed if we vote BJP's candidate to power." Others around him nodded in agreement.
Can the BJP make inroads?
The BJP seems to be confident, and is banking on anti-incumbency, among other factors, for a win at the local level. In a conversation with TNM, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) District General Secretary Narender Reddy said that they were sure of a win.
When asked if their candidate has the scope to win Kamareddy, he said, "We are certainly confident. His victory will definitely revive the party in the area from the ground level."
A few people pointed out that the BJP has strengthened its presence in the town and the district steadily over the past few years. A close associate of a senior BJP leader said, “People can't meet the present TRS MLA, whereas Venkata Ramana Reddy is very much available to people and any one can go and meet him."