Hyderabad (Telangana): On 14 May 2022, T Raja Singh, a two-time memberof legislative assembly (MLA) of the Bharatiya Janata Party from Hyderabad’s Goshamahal constituency, addressed a public rally, speaking after and following the anti-Muslim cues of union home minister Amit Shah’s speech, which kicked off the campaign for Telangana’s 2023 state election.
Shah called for Hyderabad to be “free” of the Nizams—former Muslim rulers whose reign ended 74 years ago in 1948—and reservations for minorities to be abolished. Amidst a sea of BJP flags and banners, Singh, 45, who shared the stage with Shah, said the “Owaisi brothers” (Asaduddin Owaisi and Akbaruddin Owaisi, leaders of the rival All India Majlis- e-Ittehadul Party) should be “thrown out” of the state and Telangana made a “Hindu state”.
“It’s BJP’s rule, 200%, next year in Telangana,” said Singh.
“The coming times are the times of war. The Nizams will not rule us anymore," said Singh. "There is going to be Hindu raj. India should be a Hindu nation. We need to kick out the anti-Hindus in Telangana.”
Focussed on expanding in the south by winning Telangana, where the BJP has three members in a legislative assembly of 119 seats, India's ruling party has settled for a tried and tested strategy of dividing Hindus and Muslims along religious lines to consolidate the Hindu vote and win elections.
In line with Hindu right-wing efforts to create communal tensions over temples and mosques in Uttar Pradesh, widely believed to be part of the strategy to win the 2024 national election, BJP leaders in Telangana are raking up the history of religious places.
Among the rabble-rousers at the forefront of that campaign is Singh, who has almost 50 police cases registered against him since 2005, nearly half for giving anti-Muslim hate speeches and inciting communal tensions. There are 50 serious offences listed in his election affidavit, including attempt to murder, and he is named as a “rowdy sheeter” in the dossier of the Mangalhat police station in Hyderabad.
Currently out on bail, Singh, a medium-built man, who wears a saffron tilak with the same-coloured kurtas and scarves, routinely makes headlines for anti-Muslim hate speech. Singh's credentials as a Hindutva rabble rouser make him integral to the BJP’s election campaign, and he also holds considerable sway over the dominant Lodh community (to which he belongs) in the Goshamahal constituency.
On 23 April 2022, Singh wrote to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), asking them to “remove non-Hindu religious constructions” from the premises of the Sri Jogulamba temple at Alampur in Gadwal district in southern Telangana, or “the BJP will do the needful after forming government in Telangana in 2023”.
In May, Bandi Sanjay Kumar, member of parliament from Karimnagar and president of the BJP in Telangana, said that mosques across the state should be dug up, and if shivlings were found, handed over to Hindus. He also said reservation in government jobs for socially and economically marginalised Muslims would be abolished if the BJP came to power, referring to the TRS government’s plan to increase the Muslim quota from 4% to 12%.
Kumar, who recently claimed that 12 MLAs from the ruling TRS were ready to join the BJP in the state, also said that a movie should be made on the atrocities committed against Hindus by a private militia called the Razakars during the rule of the Nizams, called “Razakar Files”, similar to the Kashmir Files.
The BJP national executive meeting was held in Telangana in July, making it the first meeting of the party’s decision-making body outside New Delhi after five years and the third in a southern state after coming to power in 2014.
At the meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to Hyderabad as “Bhagyanagar”, referring to a temple next to the Charminar, a 16th-century Islamic structure in the state emblem.
Modi's remarks renewed debate around the BJP’s demand to change the city’s name. Since the BJP came to power at the centre in 2014, BJP governments have changed the names of cities and districts in Maharashtra, Haryana, Nagaland and Uttar Pradesh.
The BJP claims that Hyderabad was called Bhagyanagar, and the Bhagyalakshmi temple of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, located next to the southeast minaret of the Charminar, was named after it. Situated in the communally sensitive and Muslim majority Old City of Hyderabad, the temple has been the cause of communal violence for decades.
‘Raja Singh Is Very Important To The BJP’
Singh, who won the state election in 2014 and 2018 from the Goshamahal constituency, defeated the candidates from the Congress Party and Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) by a margin of 46,793 and 17,734, respectively, and is one of the three representatives of the BJP in the Telangana state assembly.
The presence of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in Hyderabad, a national Modi wave, some anti-incumbency, the lack of formidable opponents in Goshamahal and his following have contributed to Singh’s victories in two successive elections, political observers said. The only BJP candidate to win the election in 2014 and 2018 before the BJP won two by-polls in 2020 and 2021.
E. Venkatesu, professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad, told Article 14 that Singh was "very important" to BJP's plans for Telangana.
"Using the communal angle is not new for the BJP, but the party took a new stand at the national executive meeting against the dynastic regional political parties," said Venkatesu. "To make Telangana free of these regional parties."
"Raja Singh is very important to the BJP to achieve this agenda as he is the one and only candidate who was elected by the people in 2018 in Telangana," said Singh. "He is hardcore and orthodox, the party deliberately uses this identity of his in the Old City of Hyderabad, which is working in their favour."
Asked if the BJP's campaign was communal, BJP state secretary Prakash Reddy told Article 14: “One among our 10 agendas is to take down the TRS and MIM, and Raja Singh is the identified brand ambassador of this agenda. BJP is not interested in playing political games with a communal angle. We are not against Muslims, we are against MIM."
Reddy referred to the AIMIM, led by Owaisi, the member of parliament from Hyderabad. The party won seven seats in the Telangana Assembly in 2014 and 2018.
Calling the AIMIM an "anti-national party", Reddy said, "The only person capable of showing this to the public of Telangana is Raja Singh. He is not against Muslims. In his recent speech when Yogi Adityanath visited Hyderabad, he encouraged Muslim youth to wake up and educate themselves."
Sanjay Kumar, professor of political science at the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, and co- director of the Lokniti program, said that winning Telangana was key to the BJP's southern expansion.
"BJP is trying to expand by targeting southern states with no strong opposition and the ones with Muslim population," said Kumar. "It is relatively easier to approach Telangana first compared to Kerala and Tamil Nadu.”
To ask why, despite the scores of cases against him, Singh can make anti-Muslim hate speeches in the city, Article 14 sought comment from Hyderabad commissioner of police C V Anand and additional commissioner of police, crime branch, A.K. Srinivas. There was no response to phone calls.
Article 14 contacted Singh over the phone for comment, but the MLA did not respond and blocked this reporter’s number.
A Man Of Many Parties
Singh, 45, was born in a family belonging to the Lodh community in Dhoolpet, one of the most underdeveloped parts of Hyderabad, a hub for illicit liquor and drug smuggling.
Known by three names—Lodh, Lodha, Lodhi—they have been included in the OBC list in Telangana, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand. In West Bengal and Odisha, they are placed in the category of scheduled tribes.
In Dhoolpet, the Lodhs say they are descendants of the Rajputs.
Singh has said that he was born in a family with no political connections and insufficient money to afford a proper education.
Singh’s website says he was with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) youth wing, the Hindu Vahini, and participated in gau raksha (cow protection) before he became a state lawmaker for the first time in 2014. “He is more educated than many people regarding the knowledge about Hindutva,” it said.
In August 2018, Singh announced his resignation from the BJP to devote himself to the cow protection movement, blaming the ruling TRS for not taking the necessary steps toward cow protection, his third resignation since he joined the BJP in 2014.
He has gone back on his decision every time. In June 2021, Singh told the Telangana police: “If you don't want communal violence in the city, then make sure the cows don't get slaughtered.”
Muslims have been the target of 51% of cow-related violence since 2010 in India, according to an IndiaSpend content analysis of all English media. As many as 97% of these attacks were reported after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014. About half of the cow-related violence was from states governed by the BJP when the attacks were reported.
After spending his youth inside the RSS, Singh paved his way into politics, winning a ticket from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 2009 and serving five years as a corporator in the Mangalhat area in the Old City, where his birthplace Dhoolpet is located.
Amjed Ullah Khan, the spokesperson of Majlis Bachao Tehreek, which was previously a part of Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM, said that the Congress Party dominated Dhoolpet until 2009, and the TDP brought Singh in to gain a foothold in the area.
In his early thirties, Singh was close to Mula Mukesh Goud, the Goshamahal MLA from the Congress party from 2010- 2014, and Mettu Vaikuntam, the BJP corporator from Goshamahal from 2010-2014. These connections helped him gain a following Goshamahal.
With Goud’s help, Singh was involved in the Congress Party’s youth wing for some time.
Singh and Vaikuntam (the BJP corporator) were the prime accused in a murder case of a pastor in Shamshabad Mandal, Hyderabad, in 2005. Singh was acquitted because of a “lack of evidence” in 2021.
A Message Of Hate
From threatening to behead those who oppose the Ram Mandir and “bulldoze” those who did not vote for Yogi Adityanath in the Uttar Pradesh state election in February 2022, Singh’s involvement in communal clashes and hate speeches across the city has been well known since his time as a TDP corporator from Mangalhat.
On 6 June 2022, Singh made offensive remarks against the 12-century Sufi saint Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti of Ajmer, Rajasthan.
“Nowadays, a lot of Hindus are visiting Ajmer Dargah. If any of them come to know of the real history of Ajmer Dargah, I challenge that they wouldn't go there and bow their heads," said Singh "Prithviraj Chouhan’s wife was thrown out of this dargah to get raped by the soldiers. Woh ek harami ki dargah hai aur uski kabar hai wo (It is a bastard’s, and it’s his grave).”
On 9 April 2022, during a Ram Navami procession to mark the birthday of Lord Ram, Singh was abusive of Muslims, calling them haramis (bastards), and calling for the economic boycott of Muslim traders.
“Imagine what will happen if we stop buying from you gaddars (traitors)," said Singh. "You won’t even be able to beg on the streets. I call upon all of you to boycott those who do not sing Vande Mataram.”
Four months after the Wall Street Journal reported in April 2020 that Facebook policies seemingly favoured the BJP in India, the company banned MLA Singh from its platform in August, for his posts calling for Rohingya Muslim immigrants to be shot and threats to raze mosques.
In September 2020, after Facebook released a statement—“We have banned Raja Singh from Facebook for violating our policy prohibiting those that promote or engage in violence and hate from having a presence on our platform”—Singh claimed he had not used the platform since April 2019.
In a speech at a Hindu dharma sabha in Karnataka on 16 December 2017, Singh urged "every Hindu" to buy a weapon.
"There must be a sword in every Hindu's hand. I request the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to train every Hindu youngster on how to use an AK-47 gun," said Singh. "Even if you have to buy something worth one rupee, buy it from Hindus and not from these deshdrohis (traitors).”
In April 2013, Siasat Daily reported that the TDP did not issue a party ticket to Singh in 2014 and suspended him for destroying the “secular reputation” of the party. Still, political observers said it was he who left the party and joined the BJP with the help of Vaikuntam, because it was aligned to his Hindutva agenda.
Winning As A BJP Candidate
In February 2014, the state of Andhra Pradesh bifurcated, and Telangana was born. The TDP, which had a stronghold in AP, did not have much hope in Telangana, collaborating with the BJP to fight the election in the new state.
In May 2014, Singh won the Goshamahal constituency as a BJP candidate, defeating his one-time ally Goud of the Congress Party’s by a margin of 46,793 votes, and in 2018, the TRS’s Prem Singh Rathore by 17,734 votes.
Political observers said that while the state unit of the BJP did not want Singh, he enjoyed support from the party’s central command in Delhi.
A journalist who has covered Singh since 2009 and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Singh wanted to be like Aelay Narendra or Tiger Narendra, the BJP MLA from the Himayatnagar constituency in Hyderabad in 1983, 1988 and 1992 and a former union minister from 1999 to 2009, who began his political career as an Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh worker in the early 1980s in Hyderabad.
The other two MLAs from the BJP after the 2018 state election were Raghunadan Rao from Siddipet’s Dubbak town, elected in the 2020 by-poll elections after the death of TRS’s Solipeta Ramalinga Reddy and Etela Rajender from the Huzurabad constituency after winning the 2021 by-election.
In June 2022, the Hyderabad Police registered a case under section 228 (disclosure of the victim's identity) after the legislator Raghunadan Rao revealed a few images connected to a minor’s gang rape in Hyderabad in June 2022. In February 2020, a 47-year-old woman accused Rao of raping her in 2007, when he was an advocate, after which a rape case was filed against him.
Etala Rajender, the former health minister of Telangana, was expelled from the TRS party over land grabbing allegations in Medak district in May 2021, after which he joined the BJP and won the 2021 by-election.
Goshamahal And Gudumba
Goshamahal constituency, with 240,000 voters, is one of seven assembly seats in Hyderabad. Of the many civic problems in the constituency, the major one is the production of illicit liquor (gudumba) and the smuggling of ganja (marijuana) to other parts of the city.
The male residents of Goshamahal spend four months making Ganesh and Durga idols and then selling them, while the women make papads (chips), kites, manja (thread), and rakhis for an income. For the rest of the year, residents say they produce gudumba.
People belonging to the Lodh community were involved in gudumba production, and Singh himself admitted being a part of it, alleged V Satyanarayana, the DCP of Karimnagar city, who was the first police officer to conduct a co-ordinance search in October 2014 to eradicate gudumba in Dhoolpet.
Satyanarayana, who was the deputy commissioner of police of the west zone, Hyderabad, at the time, said that when his team reached Dhoolpet to seize all machinery, utensils and equipment that were used in the distillation of gudumba and arrest those involved in this making it, Singh tried to block them from entering and carrying out their operations.
“All of this happened when he was an MLA. He argued with us publicly during the co-ordinance search and did not cooperate,” said Satyanrayana. "I treated him equal to the rowdy-sheeters and gave no special treatment just because he was an MLA.”
‘We Want BJP In Telangana’
While the Old City has seen some development, Goshamahal is rundown. The residents, primarily traders, from the Lodh and Marwadi communities, make up Singh’s vote bank.
People in Singh’s constituency had differing opinions about him, but they were staunchly behind the BJP. Even as some railed against him for failing to significantly improve Goshamahal in the nine years since he was first elected, others called him “down to earth” and “hands-on” with local problems, responding to and resolving issues. No one objected to his anti-Muslim speeches.
Devendra, a 22-year-old with black rimmed glasses, was sitting at the corner of his kite shop weaving one with his father Manraj, 51, near the shop they have owned for more than a decade.
“We do not vote for Raja Singh , we vote for BJP,” said Manraj. “He has done nothing to make Dhoolpet better. We want BJP in Telangana, so we vote for him.”
Pointing to a drain in the middle of the road in front of their shop, Devendra said: “This manhole has been open for months and got rebuilt just a few days ago as elections are now on its way.”
“Most of the youngsters here are drug addicts and have minimal education,” said Devendra. “We are tired of requesting proper roads and cleanliness. The MLA always blames the state government.”
The Raja Of FIRs
On 27 March 2010, organisers of Hanuman Jayanti celebrations in the neighbourhood of Moosa Bowli in the old city tried to hoist flags and buntings by removing the Islamic flags tied a few days early to mark Milad-Un-Nabi (observance of the birth of the Islamic prophet Muhammed), sparking heated arguments that escalated into violence between Hindus and Muslims.
Leading the Hindu mob was Singh, then in his early thirties and a TDP corporator of the Mangalhat area, Hyderabad.
“That was the first breakthrough moment in Raja Singh’s political career that got him attention from the public,” remembered Syed Mohammad Bilal, a reporter with Siasat Daily. “I took his picture, which then got printed in our daily.”
The police identified Singh as the prime conspirator and booked him under the seven sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1860: 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapons), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 120 B (criminal conspiracy), 307 (attempt to murder).
Over a decade after the administration gave permission to prosecute on 15 May 2012, Singh was acquitted.
In the affidavit for the 2014 state election, Singh declared 19 criminal cases filed against him during his time as a Mangalhat TDP corporator including section 153 of the Indian Penal Code, 1868, ( promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.), section 307 (attempt to murder) and section 148 (rioting with a deadly weapon).
Cases against Singh have more than doubled from 19 to 43 when he contested the state election in 2018.
In 2018, for taking out rallies without permission and giving hate speeches, 15 cases were registered against him for promoting enmity between different groups (153A), outraging religious feelings (295A), and criminal intimidation.
The maximum cases registered against Singh were under sections 153A and 295A following the religious processions he takes out every year to mark birth of Hindu gods Ram and Hanuman.
Singh is number 24 in the rowdy-sheeter dossier—a list of people with a criminal record—at the Mangalhat police station.
“ When he was listed as a rowdy-sheeter, he was not a politician,” said a retired constable, speaking on the condition of anonymity fearing retaliation from the MLA. “The Mangalhat police station has a record of all of Singh’s criminal cases and keeps deducting and adding to it, which he signs every month.”
Singh’s lawyer Karuna Sagar told Article 14 that of 47 cases registered against Singh as of June 2022, the BJP MLA had been acquitted in 35 and convicted in two, both for attacking police officials.
Of the six cases in which he was charged for attempt to murder, Sagar said that Singh was acquitted in all due to lack of evidence.
“The cases against him are all politically motivated, the ruling party has registered cases hastily but with no evidence just to make up a record of criminal cases on him,” said Sagar.
In 2021, Singh was convicted by a special court set up in Nampally, Hyderabad, to try criminal cases against MLAs and MPs in a case where he had planned to protest against a beef festival held at the Osmania University in 2015 and was taken into preventive detention at Bollaram Police Station, Hyderabad, where he allegedly attacked a police sub-inspector.
Sentenced to one year in prison for attacking the police official, Singh has filed an appeal before the Telangana High Court.
(Vidheesha Kuntamalla is a freelance journalist based in Hyderabad. She writes on politics, gender and social justice.)