When the Rajinikanth-starrer film Kaala released in early June, not many may have predicted that it would indirectly be a cause of political upheaval in Telangana. However, a controversy over the Ramayana following the film brought the spotlight on Hindu religious leader Swami Paripoornananda: who is now the face of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state.
As noted in this article in The Quint, after a fierce public debate emerged over the film’s allusions to characters from the Ramayana, film critic Kathi Mahesh remarked during a television debate that Sita may have been happier if she had lived with Ravana, and not Rama. In response to this, Paripoornananda filed a case against Mahesh, while VHP and Bajrang Dal members protested outside the Jubilee Hills Police Station in Hyderabad. Due to this, Paripoornananda and Mahesh were externed from Hyderabad for six months, but the agitation catapulted the former, who had been politically active earlier as well, into being something of a mascot for Hindutva politics in the state. Later, the Hyderabad High Court issued an interim stay on Paripoornananda’s externment.
The BJP launched a major agitation opposing the action against Paripoornananda, and even sought the intervention of Governor ESL Narasimhan over the issue. Soon, speculation began that the seer may join the saffron party and, sure enough, he did so on 1 November. BJP chief Amit Shah said his induction would “infuse new energy into the party and boost its election prospects in Telangana.”
Paripoornananda is touted to be the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in Telangana, and such reports have led to comparisons with another saffron-robed seer: Yogi Adityanath. However, in an interview to Firstpost, Paripoornananda sought to play down such comparisons, saying that Adityanath has been a five-time Member of Parliament (MP) and had taken over the responsibility of the Gorakhpur constituency from a young age.
Nevertheless, much like the Uttar Pradesh chief minister (who is the mahant of the Gorakhnath math), Paripoornananda is the head of the religious organisation organisation Sri Peetham. He also heads the Hindu Vahini, while Adityanath had founded the Hindu Yuva Vahini, which many described as a militia. Members of the Hindu Vahini have been accused of involvement in numerous acts of violence, including pelting stones at the convoy of AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi.
Hindutva politics during the campaign
Notwithstanding the induction of Paripoornananda, the BJP may have little room for polarisation on religious lines in Telangana compared to Uttar Pradesh. As this article in The News Minute points out, while Paripoornananda has been taking care of the hardcore Hindutva aspect of the campaign, most other party leaders have not been adopting the same tone. The article argues that this may be because any loss to the ruling TRS in Telangana would mean a gain for the Congress, the BJP’s chief rival at the national level.
Indeed, the BJP on its own is not a major force in the state. In the previous election in 2014, the BJP had won just five seats out of 119 in the Telangana region. An article in Mint quoted a senior BJP functionary as saying that realistically, the party expects to win 12 to 15 seats this time. With such a tally, the BJP can hope to have a say in government formation in case of a hung Assembly.
The BJP is presently restricted to Hyderabad, as all its five MLAs are from the capital city’s constituencies of Uppal, Musheerabad, Amberpet, Goshamahal and LB Nagar. The city is also the home ground of the AIMIM, and thus, there is a greater possibility of votes being polarised along religious lines.
A recent instance of this was the war of words between Yogi Adityanath and Asaduddin Owaisi. When the former said that the AIMIM chief will have to flee Telangana “like the Nizam was forced to flee Hyderabad”, the latter asked if a person will be forced to leave the country merely for criticising the BJP and RSS.
The Nizam of Hyderabad is the BJP’s historical villain of choice for the Telangana election, and the party’s leaders have made repeated references to the erstwhile ruler on the campaign trail. Paripoornananda has referred to Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao and the TRS as “Nizam” multiple times. Amit Shah in a recent rally also slammed KCR for not celebrating “Hyderabad Liberation Day”, alleging that it was afraid of the AIMIM and Asaduddin Owaisi.
As part of its Hindutva pitch, the BJP also targeted the Congress, and recently made the (factually incorrect) claim that the Congress promised free electricity to mosques and churches, but not to temples in its manifesto.
Shah also slammed the TRS government’s poll promise to give 12 percent reservation for minorities, saying that the Constitution does not provide for quotas on the basis of religion. He accused both the Congress and TRS of engaging in “minority appeasement.”
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Updated Date: Dec 06, 2018 19:31:07 IST