Days after a Hindutva mob burnt his fruit shop, Shaik Abdul Khadeer and his family were yet to return to their home in Daulatabad village in Sangareddy district. On January 22, following the pran pratishtha in Ayodhya, Daulatabad’s Sriramayalaya Utsava Committee organised a ceremony. During a procession taken out as a part of the ceremony, a shoe was hurled at a palanquin that was in the procession. Khadeer’s house was traced as the source of the shoe. Committee members who went to the building allegedly saw his sons climbing down. They barged into Khadeer’s home and claimed to have found, in the washing machine, the pairing shoe. A mob soon gathered outside Khadeer’s house and before police reinforcements could arrive, it proceeded to burn down Khadeer’s shop. Even as an FIR was registered against Khadeer’s sons, the calls for “justice” grew. Khadeer and his family were moved to an undisclosed location in an ambulance.
In Morgi, Sangareddy district, a 19-year-old Muslim man’s video recorded a disrespectful act with a saffron flag. He was paraded naked and beaten up by a Hindutva mob who later handed him over to the police. The police filed two cases: one against the Muslim man and the other against the mob.
In Narketpally, Nalgonda district, Muslims raised the alarm about attempts by Sangh Parivar-affiliated organisations to occupy a notified waqf land (next to a mosque).
Several such communal flare-ups were reported in Telangana on January 22. Police registered cases and counter-cases, and peace committees stepped in. The incidents were contained before any loss of life. However, the tensions continued to simmer.
Khadeer now fears for the safety of his sons but he cannot keep them away from Daulatabad forever. The police have obtained his sons’ confessions. Local Muslim leaders call it a misunderstanding. Khadeer filed an official complaint against the mob.
Suitable site to spread Hindutva
Telangana has enjoyed a period of relative communal harmony for over a decade. However, a gradual increase in saffronisation and spread of the Hindutva ideology has also been observed. For quite some time now, Telangana has acquired the reputation as a suitable site to spread Hindutva and the BJP’s footprint in the south.
Electorally speaking, the BJP won eight seats in the 2023 Telangana Assembly election, seven from northern Telangana, up from just one in 2018. Its vote share increased from 7 per cent in 2018 to 14 per cent in 2023. The Sangh Parivar’s presence, however, extends to three Telangana district zones: north, central, and south, albeit in varying strength.
A Telangana RSS public relations officer said the organisation had about 3,500 shakhas in the State. As per their website, Saraswathi Vidya Peetham (run under the RSS education wing) currently has 160 schools in Telangana and over 30,000 students.
On January 20, some Hindutva supporters disrupted a small screening of Anand Patwardhan’s Ram Ke Naam organised by Hyderabad Cinephiles, a group of film enthusiasts, at a restaurant in Secunderabad. Police detained four members of the group in the Neredmet police station overnight and slapped a case under Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts that are intended to outrage religious feelings). In a counter-case, the Hindutva disruptors were booked under offences such as trespassing, criminal intimidation, and outraging the modesty of a woman.
Over the years, incidents of pushback from Sangh Parivar affiliates against secular or democratic expression in public have become common. In the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) regime, there was a conflict when the Democratic Cultural Forum of Osmania University wanted to hold a beef festival in December 2015 (after the Dadri lynching). When permission was denied, Dalit and Bahujan students called out the administration’s double standards in permitting the RSS to hold meetings in the university’s public spaces and on Sangh Parivar-enforced rules, such as no consumption of meat or eggs on campus during Navaratri.
“The BJP and the RSS were not a force to reckon with in this region, even in the 1980s,” said Nellutla Venugopal, editor of Veekshanam magazine. “That’s why they were aggressive, and in 1972 killed George Reddy [a committed leftist and founder of the Progressive Democratic Students Union] in Osmania University to gain ground in student politics.”
Venugopal said that Hindutva gained further acceptance among the Telangana people because of the BJP’s unwavering support for the separate statehood movement.
The “othering” of Muslims
The recent years of saffronisation have seen persistent campaigns by the BJP and Sangh Parivar affiliates focussing on the “othering” of Muslims. The campaigns cite the examples of Pakistan and Afghanistan; tag Muslims as terrorists and anti-nationals; allege forced conversions, love jehad, and threats to national security; demonise welfare schemes; allege harm to the Hindu way of life; and invoke the repression and violence during the Nizam’s rule.
The concentration of Muslims in a few districts and the assertion of Muslim identity, particularly post-Babri Masjid demolition, is often invoked in the narrative. Leaders such as Karimnagar MP Bandi Sanjay Kumar, Nizamabad MP Dharmapuri Arvind, Goshamahal MLA T. Raja Singh, and other BJP leaders are the primary mediums of this propaganda.
In December, a government order from the Minority Welfare Department sanctioned nearly Rs.2.5 crore for a Tablighi Jamaat congregation, giving impetus to right-wing accusations that the Congress indulges in Muslim appeasement. The VHP demanded the withdrawal of the order and a ban on such organisations because of their “antisocial” and “anti-Hindu” nature. BJP leader Afsar Pasha filed a petition in the Telangana High Court against the sanctioning of the funds. The court issued notices to the government departments involved. The Tablighi Jamaat congregation was held in the first week of January.
Aside from routine inflammatory speeches by leaders of the BJP and other wings of the Sangh Parivar, and messaging on social media, dozens of Hindutva-leaning YouTube channels disseminate this propaganda at an alarming frequency. In an interview with Frontline, Asaduddin Owaisi, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) president, said that provocative songs with such themes had become popular and called it a dangerous trend. Another frequent disturbance is to the Qureshi community (butchers), who are routinely stopped while transporting legally purchased animals. It is causing a loss of livelihood to the community, Owaisi said.
Absence of Muslim voices
There is a steep decline in the middle-class population of Muslims in Telangana and the absence of public presence and voices of Muslims, said Ajay Gudavarthy, associate professor at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. According to Gudavarthy, observers said that the inflammatory speeches of the AIMIM’s Akbaruddin Owaisi had aided the Sangh Parivar narratives and that the party was the instigator that the Sangh Parivar needed in Telangana.
The Sangh Parivar’s rhetoric and narrative find endorsement in Telangana for historical reasons and contemporary socio-economic and political conditions. These narratives keep alive in popular memory the Nizam’s rule and the violence of the Razakars. But this is also the Sangh Parivar’s distorted view of history.
“It was certainly a feudal, autocratic state,” said Venugopal. “The Nizam was a Muslim, but his monarchy also depended on both Christians (British) and Hindus (feudal landlords).” Hindutva narratives skip the nuance that the Razakars were not only deployed to kill those who supported the Indian state but were also used by the Nizam and the feudal Hindu landlords to target the Telangana peasant uprising.
Each year, the BJP celebrates September 17, the day the princely state of Hyderabad was annexed, as “Liberation Day”. K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), former Chief Minister, steadfastly celebrated it as “Integration Day”, not giving in to the BJP’s demands. In 2022, Bandi Sanjay mocked KCR, calling him Kasim Chandrashekar Razvi (Kasim Razvi was the founder of the Razakar militia).
Gudavarthy credits KCR with occupying the Hindu space in the public sphere, and his party, the BRS, with not allowing communal rhetoric to take over the discourse. Gudavarthy, however, agreed that the Sangh Parivar narratives had takers among the Hindu elites in Telangana. He added that consolidation among Hindu elites had increased with the buzz around the Ram temple. The newer adherents of this narrative are among the younger Hindus, particularly those from landless or small landholding backward castes who are routinely involved in anti-Dalit violence in the State. Gudavarthy explained that increasing unemployment, social inequality, and targeted welfare measures that left several deserving groups behind aided the Sangh Parivar’s slow social engineering methods.
- For quite some time now, Telangana has acquired the reputation as a suitable site to spread Hindutva and the BJP’s footprint in the south.
- The recent years of saffronisation have seen persistent campaigns by the BJP and Sangh Parivar affiliates focussing on the “othering” of Muslims.
- Sangh Parivar’s narratives keep alive in popular memory the Nizam’s rule and the violence of the Razakars but this is a distorted view of history.
- Kamala, a Gond Adivasi activist from Telangana’s Kumuram Bheem Asifabad district, is worried about Hindu customs and practices taking over the Adivasi way of life.
Confrontations with Dalit Ambedkarites
Another battle for the public space is the Hindutva groups’ confrontations with Dalit Ambedkarites, where the weaponisation of Shivaji statues has been a frequent flashpoint. “The Reddys and other dominant castes have occupied positions across political parties. And in villages, Hindu festivals are used to mobilise the BCs,” said Buram Abhinav, State general secretary of the Kula Nirmulana Porata Samithi (Struggle Committee for Annihilation of Caste).
In Telangana, the Sangh Parivar’s anti-Christian articulations and allegations of forced conversions are prevalent as well. Between 2018 and 2022, over 30 churches and pastors were attacked in Telangana by Hindutva outfits, according to data gathered by S. Jeevan Kumar, member of the Human Rights Forum Andhra Pradesh and Telangana Coordination Committee. In several cases, the victims did not even file complaints due to fear of further violence. Activists on the ground said that marginalised caste Christians were the targets of most of these attacks or threats because they had left the Hindu fold.
The appropriation of cultural spaces using Hindu festivals is another tactic in the Sangh Parivar playbook. “Ganesh Chaturthi was earlier celebrated in homes or among small groups of youngsters and was a localised phenomenon. From the 1970s, it was gradually built up and became a political movement,” said Rama Melkote, former political science professor at Osmania University. The Bhagyanagar Ganesh Utsav Samithi has overseen the conduct of Ganesh utsav in Hyderabad for over three decades. The Sangh Parivar uses the name “Bhagyanagar” for Hyderabad to honour Bhagmati, who they claim was the city founder Quli Qutub Shah’s lover. Local historians dispute this.
Another manifestation of right-wing aspirations in Hyderabad is the Bhagyalakshmi temple, which abuts a minaret of the Charminar, a historical landmark. Photographic evidence from The Hindu archives suggests that was no temple present there even in the early 1960s, whereas Qutub Shah had built the Charminar in the 16th century. The Archaeological Survey of India has called the temple an “unauthorised construction”. Local and national BJP leaders routinely visit the temple. Congress leaders, including Chief Minister Revanth Reddy and Deputy Chief Minister Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka, have visited it in recent years.
Taking over Adivasi way of life
The proliferation of Hindutva symbolism through cultural means is not limited to Hyderabad and urban areas alone. Kamala, a Gond Adivasi activist and organiser from Telangana’s Kumuram Bheem Asifabad district, is worried about Hindu customs and practices taking over the Adivasi way of life. The integration of Adivasis into the Hindu fold through cultural means is a well-documented Sangh Parivar tactic. Like others, Kamala has anecdotal evidence about Ganesh utsav and other festivals. Kamala also opposes the Bathukamma celebrations among Adivasis, which she calls a more recent phenomenon.
Sangh Parivar-affiliated organisations and other small groups have nevertheless been persistent with their efforts. The Vanavasi Kalyan Parishad (VKP) website boasts a presence in nearly 1,400 tribal villages and hamlets of Telangana, over 300 social projects, seven hostels for children, and 110 Vanavasi Vidya Kendras (single-teacher schools). The VKP also organises paramedical support and conducts spiritual congregations.
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Telangana has a rich history of democratic, Left and ultra-leftist organisations, and social and Dalit movements; several of these spaces have shrunk, partly during the BRS regime. Even as there continues to be pushback to the Hindutva propaganda in both rural and urban Telangana, it might not withstand the Sangh Parivar’s organisational heft in the long term.
Looking ahead, the BJP, backed by the Sangh Parivar, is focussing on winning at least 10 Lok Sabha seats in the general election. Most observers and experts, however, doubt whether Telangana’s slow saffronisation can translate into a BJP victory in the near future. The capture of minds has spread considerably, as seen on January 22 when most houses in Hyderabad raised the saffron flag. Will they vote for the BJP in 2024? “I have my doubts,” said Venugopal.