With Bandi Sanjay not at helm, BJP plans to shift away from aggressive Hindutva

Sanjay, who is seen as a hardline RSS or Hindutva votary, first made headlines in 2020 when he said surgical strikes will be made on Hyderabad’s Old City that is predominantly Muslim.
With Bandi Sanjay not at helm, BJP plans to shift away from aggressive Hindutva
With Bandi Sanjay not at helm, BJP plans to shift away from aggressive Hindutva
Written by:
Edited by:

With the exit of Karimnagar Lok Sabha MP Bandi Sanjay as the party president, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Telangana is expected to move away from the aggressive Hindutva messaging during his three year tenure. The saffron party is showing signs of reverting to its ‘development’ plank against the ruling Bharata Rashtra Samithi (BRS) government in the upcoming state polls this year. Under Bandi Sanjay’s leadership since 2020, the BJP became aggressive in its tone, with leaders like Goshamahal MLA Raja Singh (now in suspension) and Nizamabad Lok Sabha MP Dharmapuri Arvind constantly raising anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Bandi Sanjay, who was caught up in a leadership rift with BJP Huzurabad MLA Eatala Rajender over the party president post, finally stepped down earlier this month and was replaced by Secunderabad Lok Sabha MP G. Kishan Reddy. BJP leaders from the state told TNM that in the campaign for the state election this year, the party will mainly focus on highlighting the ruling Bharata Rashtra Samithi’s (BRS) “failures”.

Bandi Sanjay’s aggressive Hindutva style is something that some of the ex-Congress leaders who joined the BJP have been uncomfortable with, given that their constituents also include minority voters. Eatala Rajender, who joined the BJP after being sacked from the BRS cabinet in 2021, has mostly stuck to his agenda of attacking the state government over its shortcomings for example.

Leaders like Eatala and ex-Congress MLA Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy, who also shifted to the BJP, have only focussed on targeting the BRS and its governance. Bandi Sanjay, on the other hand, has primarily stuck to his aggressive Hindutva messaging and this was evident during his Praja Sangrama Yatra in which he repeatedly spoke on Hindutva issues like the Bhagyalakshmi temple at Charminar and the Razakars, a Muslim militia that was started in 1947 by Qasim Razvi who wanted the erstwhile Hyderabad state to be independent.

Moreover, many other leaders in the state BJP say they are not willing to take a hardline Hindutva approach like Bandi Sanjay did. “Our first and foremost topic to talk about now will be development. There are a lot of things to talk about and highlight about BRS’s misgovernance. To a certain extent there was an image built among people, especially across industries, that we are only focussing on Hindutva in Telangana now. Moreover, with Kishan Reddy, he has a more sober approach and you will see the difference in the BJP’s campaign,” said a BJP functionary from the state executive committee, who also requested anonymity.

Another BJP leader from Hyderabad, who did not want to be named, said that a negative perception had been built in industry circles since 2020 about the party’s Hindutva approach. “When you have a party leader elected as the head of the state, it is the approach of the individual that makes the party look a certain way. That was Bandi Sanjay’s style of communication which was evident to the media,” he added. 

Bandi Sanjay, a hardline RSS or Hindutva ideologue, first made headlines in 2020 when he said surgical strikes will be made on Hyderabad’s Old City to “remove” Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar and Pakistanis who he alleged were living there. He made those comments at an election campaign in the run up to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) polls.

The BJP won 48 out of 150 counselor wards in the 2020 Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections. The BRS, which had won 99 GHMC wards in the 2015 GHMC polls, saw its numbers getting reduced to 56. The All India Majilis-e-Itthadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Congress won 44 and two seats in the 2020 municipal polls. 

Political observers said that while Bandi Sanjay’s tactics worked to a certain extent, there were other factors also that played a role.

“One of the reasons why BJP also won many seats in the GHMC election was also because many youth were still waiting for job notifications from the government. That was a strong reason for the urban voters to vote for the BJP. The Hindutva narrative in Telangana does not have many takers which is why they may be shifting from it. After the Karnataka elections, there has been a reconsideration of the Hindutva agenda here,” said E Venkatesu, a faculty member from the University of Hyderabad’s Political Science Department. 

In fact, the ex-BJP President raised eyebrows by starting his Padayatra in 2021 from the Bhagyalaxmi temple at Charminar, a communally sensitive site as the temple is disputed on the ancient monument. The temple, which according to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is an unauthorised structure in the 1970s, has become bigger and is now also patronised by leaders across party lines when they hold public meetings in the Old City.

Another Hindutva face that became most prominent under Bandi Sanjay is Nizamabad MP Arvind, who has passed several communal remarks over the last few years. Both Bandi Sanjay and Arvind stirred the communal pot in 2022 by alleging that the state government was favouring Muslims by allowing state civil aspirants to write exams in Urdu as an option

Under Bandi Sanjay, other leaders like Goshamahal MLA Raja Singh, who is known for making provocative and anti-Muslim statements, also gained prominence. Singh is currently in suspension after he passed derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad in a video. He released it in retaliation against the state government letting comedian Munawar Faruqui hold a show in Hyderabad. The MLA’s comments nearly caused riots, and he was soon arrested. He is currently out on bail.

“The range of topics that Bandi Sanjay raised were limited in a way, so that made it seem like it was the only topic (Hindutva) he was talking about. Under him, there was a perception also that not all voices were heard in meetings when it came to other topics,” the state executive member added.

In fact, a series of day-long meetings were held over the span of three days between office bearers, ex-legislators and other leaders a few days after Kiishan Reddy took charge. According to both BJP leaders, many new committees have been formed internally to tackle different issues for the party’s campaign. This was a departure from the norm under Bandi Sanjay, they stated. 

Venkatesu added that appointing Kishan Reddy as BJP state President also sends out a signal. “Kishan Reddy is not aggressive, but a leader with a sober approach that has been helping him. He has an RSS background but he is not seen hardcore Hindutva proponent unlike Bandi Sanjay. He probably wants to project as a leader who is open to discussion with everyone. Also, depending on the 2024 Lok Sabha election results, the BJP may need help from parties. Both the BRS and Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress Party did not join the opposition meeting in Bangalore. So that may be a factor also for the change,” he pointed out.

In the 2018 state elections, the BJP won just one seat out of 119. Raja Singh managed to retain his Goshamahal seat. The BRS (then TRS) won 88 seats, while the AIMIM retained its seven constituencies in Hyderabad. The Congress and Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which formed a grand alliance with other smaller outfits, managed to win 19 and two seats.

Sign up for a Weekly Digest from Dhanya Rajendran

* indicates required

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute