In Telangana, there is the BJP and then there is Raja Singh. Though technically a BJP MLA from Goshamahal assembly constituency in Hyderabad, Raja Singh is pretty much a lone ranger. An RSS man who cut his teeth initially in the Telugu Desam before joining the BJP, Raja Singh does not subscribe to the image of a disciplined BJP soldier who would adhere to the party line on most matters.
Lone wolf attacks are his modus operandi, a style that has, for good reasons or bad, won him many right-wing admirers in one part of Hyderabad. He wears his Hindutva card on his saffron sleeve and with Hyderabad Old city, his karmabhoomi, it is obvious that his natural targets are the Owaisi brothers and the MIM (Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen). He heads the stateâ€™s Gau Raksha Dal, which conducts surprise raids on trucks carrying cows and buffaloes to the slaughter house.
This weekend, he made both friends and foes, when he put out a video on his Facebook page, calling those Dalits who indulge in cow slaughter â€˜galeezâ€™ (filthy). Justifying the assault on Dalits in Una in Gujarat by cow vigilante groups, Raja Singh said, â€œThose Dalits who were taking the cow, the cow meat, those who were beaten, it was a very good thing to happen."
Making a distinction between Dalits who â€œprotect cows and support gau rakshaks'' and those who kill cows, Raja Singh took on politicians and the media who criticised the assault on Dalits.
The Facebook post left the BJP red in the face. When it started going viral on Sunday, Delhi called up Hyderabad to assess the fallout of the anti-Dalit rant that is the video, and which had provided ammunition to the BJP's critics. Telangana BJP leaders were asked to speak to Raja Singh and read out the riot act to him. The fact that BJP MPs like Udit Raj, a Dalit, demanded that an example be made of Raja Singh, only added to the leadership's discomfiture.
But opinion is divided within the BJP on how to deal with Raja Singh. Some believe he is a â€œliability'' at this point in time. They point to the Dalit uprising in Gujarat, one of the reasons for chief minister Anandiben Patel's exit.
But there are many others who believe that his utterances help consolidate the non-Dalit Hindu vote of the upper castes and backward classes, in favour of the BJP. This group therefore wants no action to be taken against him though theyâ€™d advise him to lie low for a while.
The reason is strong RSS backing and the fact that Raja Singh is seen as an unapologetic Hindutva soldier who has stood his ground in Hyderabad beyond the Charminar, which is seen in popular perception as the backyard of the Owaisis. Cutting their teeth in street politics by challenging the police is a ploy often adopted by aspiring politicians. Raja Singh too is cut of the same cloth and has several cases of hate speech, violating prohibitory orders and damaging public property against him. These have helped him carve out a `Hindu rockstar' image.
For instance, in 2013, during Ram Navami, he stopped the procession right outside Mangalghat police station in Hyderabad and dared the inspector to book cases against him. In May last year, he allegedly assaulted a police constable who had objected to wedding revellers playing loud music.
But with Dalit groups planning to stage dharnas against Raja Singh and making an example of him to emphasise the BJP's alleged anti-Dalit position, the party is under pressure to be seen as doing a Dayashankar Singh Part 2. Issuing a show-cause notice to Raja Singh or even suspending him temporarily are measures that are under consideration. If the heat gets too much to handle, he could be forced to apologise as well for damage control.
The BJP has also decided that the MLA will not share the dais with Narendra Modi during the PM's visit to Hyderabad on August 7. While the names of the other four BJP MLAs and the lone MLC from Telangana have been forwarded to the Special Protection Group (SPG) for clearance, Raja Singh's name has been omitted.
But while all this will be done for public consumption, the party also recognises that Raja Singh is a useful missile who could be deployed in the battle for Lucknow. He could be a trump card, especially if the BJP decides to polarise along caste and communal lines.
Raja Singh has for long, accused political parties like the MIM of converting the Old city of Hyderabad into a â€œmini-Pakistan''. When seven youths were arrested by NIA on charges of being part of an ISIS terror module, he told The News Minute, â€œThe terror module won't be just these seven youths. There will be thousands more inside the Old city because from childhood, they are indoctrinated to fight India.'' Tarring the entire Muslim community with the same brush comes naturally to this BJP leader.
Raja Singh has often accused the Owaisis of helping terror suspects and it is this line that the BJP's Telangana leadership borrowed by launching a signature campaign against Asaduddin Owaisi for extending legal help to the seven youths.
Personally, the 38-year-old MLA is said to be ambitious. Political circles say he aims to contest the Lok Sabha elections against Asaduddin Owaisi from the Hyderabad constituency. Which is why the effort to continuously polarise by attacking Muslims and Dalits - two votebanks that Owaisi woos. Hyderabad could be in for trouble if both Raja Singh and Akbaruddin Owaisi are let loose, with their poisonous vitriol against the other community.
Having seen him fine-tune his rabble-rouser image in Hyderabad, party leaders recognise that his divisive rhetoric has the potential to set the Ganges on fire.
The question is whether this is the path that Narendra Modi wants to choose.
Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.