After a relative calm of about 10 years, Hyderabad was tense once again with communal bitterness. Massive protests and violence broke out in the Old City region of Hyderabad on August 23, Tuesday, in the wake of a video posted online by the now suspended BJP MLA Raja Singh, in which he is seen making derogatory comments against Islam and Prophet Mohammad. Singh was arrested by the city police for his inflammatory remarks in the video and simultaneously suspended from the BJP, only to be granted bail by a local court on the same day. Soon after his release, protests erupted in various parts of the city with people taking to the streets late in the night, until Raja Singh was arrested again on Thursday.
Meanwhile, visuals showed police resorting to severe lathi-charge on many young men, even as some of their family members denied that they were involved in the protests. Several allegations have surfaced of police personnel using excessive force, and in some cases barging into people’s homes, to detain suspected protesters alleged to have resorted to violence.
“After 2012, this is the first time we are experiencing this level of communal tensions in Hyderabad,” activist SQ Masood tells TNM. “The only curfews that were imposed in the city after the formation of the Telangana state were due to the rising cases of COVID-19 in Hyderabad.”
According to the Crime Records Bureau, the last time Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (which prohibits gathering of four or more people in the concerned area) was imposed in Hyderabad over communal tensions was for 10 days in 2012, when trouble broke out after some local residents reportedly found meat lying near a religious place in Kurmaguda. Just two years before that, in 2010, riots had broken out in the city during the Sri Rama Navami and Milad-un-nabir festivals in Moosabowli.
Then there was Raja Singh, and the imposition of an unofficial curfew in the city over the past week. “The BJP MLA had come very close to realising what the Srikrishna Committee — constituted to look into the demand to provide separate statehood for Telangana — had anticipated about the state,” says a journalist who has been covering Raja Singh for more than a decade, and wishes to remain anonymous. In a note submitted to the Union Home Ministry along with the main report on December 30, 2010, the Committee, headed by former Chief Justice BN Srikrishna, had stated that there is a strong possibility that the decision to form a new state would result in the birth of extremists and trigger fresh communal tensions. “Raja Singh is one such extremist,” the journalist adds.
“There is unrest in the state due to the BJP. Resorting to communal violence is their tactic to win the upcoming Assembly elections,” says Anjaneya Goud, a former member of the State Backward Class Commission and columnist with Telugu daily Namasthe Telangana. The BJP’s suspension of Raja Singh is just for show, he says. “He will be back in the party soon.”
TRS spokesperson Krishank echoes Goud’s opinion with regard to the suspension of Raja Singh. Criticising the BJP for its double standards, he says that although Singh was suspended from the party, his party members were at the Supreme Court appealing for his bail. “The TRS has always aimed for communal harmony in the city. There has not been a single curfew related to communal riots in the city since the Telangana state was formed, until this MLA came into the picture,” he says.
In fact, except during the communal violence that occurred in Bhainsa in the past two years, not a single curfew in this regard has been imposed in the state of Telangana, Goud says. A fight between two individuals over a bike accident had led to violence between two communities in Bhainsa in March last year, with the violence soon spreading to the entire town, resulting in a couple of houses, shops and vehicles being set on fire. The police later said that the violence was started by the members of the Hindu Vahini. The town had also witnessed similar communal clashes in the year before that.
BJP state secretary Prakash Reddy, meanwhile, blamed the violence on the decision to allow standup comedian Munawar Faruqui to perform a show in Hyderabad. “Why did the rogues of TRS and MIM allow Faruqui’s performance? That was the reason for this entire mess, not Raja Singh,” Prakash tells TNM.
Munawar had hosted a comedy show in Hyderabad on August 20 after repeated attempts by right-wing outfits to disrupt the show. Raja Singh was among the legislators who had demanded cancellation of the show, alleging that Faruqui had insulted Hindu gods during his performances. Singh was placed under house arrest and several leaders of BJYM were detained at various police stations much before the show. A day after he hosted the show, Raja Singh posted the video of contention on his YouTube channel, passing derogatory comments against Prophet Muhammad.
“As far as BJP is concerned, KCR and AIMIM are responsible for these tensions. It was their fault that they gave permission to conduct this comedy show. That was the seed, the rest were all just products of it,” he says, adding that the AIMIM’s call for the beheading of Raja Singh was extreme and unacceptable. “They fueled the fire,” he says.
Reddy has also confirmed that Singh has been suspended from BJP for 10 days, and the party high command will now make a decision on his reinstatement, based on Singh’s response to the show cause notice issued.