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Telangana Assembly Polls: Why Are Raja Singh & Goshamahal So Important for BJP?

Raja Singh was suspended from the party last year for making derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad.

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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), earlier this week, revealed its 'Hindutva trump card' in the first list of candidates for the Telangana Assembly elections – and his name is T Raja Singh.

The sitting MLA of the Goshamahal Assembly constituency in Hyderabad for two consecutive terms, Raja Singh was suspended by the party last year for making derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad in a video targeting comedian Munawar Faruqui.

On Sunday, 22 October, the BJP revoked his year-long suspension, stating: "Upon suspension, the Central Disciplinary Committee of the party had issued a show cause notice to you ... Basis your reply, the committee has decided to revoke your suspension forthwith."

The party swiftly placed his name against Goshamahal in the first list released on the same day.

So, why is this Telangana legislator – known nationally for his hate speeches and locally for his 'rebellious streak' – so important to the BJP in the state?

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Raja Singh's Hindutva Politics

Raja Singh's suspension came at a time when the party was embroiled in the Nupur Sharma controversy, which ruffled one too many feathers nationally and globally. The party had to distance itself from both Nupur Sharma and Raja Singh, brushing them off as 'fringe elements' in the interest of projecting a secular face.

"He was suspended not because he made derogatory remarks, but because the party wanted to avoid another international embarrassment. But in the end, by bringing him back, the BJP has proved that hardline Hindutva is in its DNA," opines R Pridhvi Raj, a senior journalist and political analyst based in Hyderabad.

"The party cannot lose people who vociferously propagate Hindutva politics – because if not for Hindutva, what does the BJP have?" he asks.

A self-styled 'gau rakshak' in his constituency, Raja Singh has been named in over 50 First Information Reports (FIRs), many of which pertain to instances of hate speech.

In fact, even after his suspension from the party, he was seen making such speeches at a Ram Navami rally in Hyderabad earlier this year.

"It is Raja Singh's Hindutva card that the BJP is banking on. Other BJP leaders like G Kishan Reddy (Union Minister and state BJP president) or K Laxman aren't as hardline. Bandi Sanjay Kumar (former BJP state president) is also similar in his politics, but he was sidelined due to internal politics," opines senior journalist Roshan Ali.

"So, Raja Singh is the only politician left to carry the BJP's Hindutva flag in Telangana. He is also the only candidate with winning prospects. No other candidate is guaranteed victory," he adds.

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Polarisation of Votes

Raja Singh won the Goshamahal constituency from the Congress' Mukesh Goud in 2014. In 2018, he was the only BJP candidate who had won a seat in the Assembly; the other incumbent BJP MLAs – namely M Raghunandan Rao and Eatala Rajender – won their seats in subsequent bypolls.

What is interesting about the constituency is that it is part of the Hyderabad Parliamentary segment, which is under the grip of Asaduddin Owaisi, the chief of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).

The Hyderabad Parliamentary segment has seven Assembly constituencies, namely Malakpet, Karwan, Charminar, Bahadurpura, Yakutpura, Chandrayangutta, and Goshamahal. All of them, except Goshamahal, are AIMIM seats.

Goshamahal is also the only Hindu-dominated seat among them, which mostly comprises Hindi, Marathi, and Marwari speakers.

Raja Singh belongs to the Lodh Rajput caste, which is originally from north India. Many members of this community had migrated to Hyderabad during the Nizam period – and Goshamahal has a considerable population of Lodh Rajputs.

Pridhvi Raj remarks: "The reason Raja Singh has done so well in Goshamahal, which is part of Hyderabad's Old City, is because he helps in polarising votes. In other words, wherever there's a Muslim-dominated party like AIMIM, the BJP will also grow, because it is a place where the BJP can polarise votes."

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Speculation About Joining BRS

As the BJP 'delayed' revoking Raja Singh's suspension, speculation was rife that he would contest the Assembly elections from Goshamahal as an Independent.

There were also rumours that he would join the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi after his meeting in July with BRS Minister T Harish Rao.

Raja Singh later clarified that if the party did not revoke his suspension, he would quit politics but still work for the 'Hindu dharma'. After his meeting with Harish Rao, he had said:

"I will always be in the BJP party and will die in the BJP party. But if the BJP does not lift my suspension, I will quit politics. I will take up dharmic activities and work towards making India a Hindu Rashtra. I am not leaving the BJP and I will not be joining any other political party."

"Raja Singh would not have wanted to join the BRS and the BRS would not have wanted him to join its ranks either. When the BRS has an equation with the AIMIM in Old City, how can they take him? The ruling party cannot afford to antagonise Muslims," explains Pridhvi Raj.

But the fact remains that Raja Singh is a rebellious character who is known to share a difficult relationship with several Telangana BJP leaders, including Kishan Reddy and Bandi Sanjay Kumar. "If he had contested as an Independent to spite the BJP, it would have been detrimental to the party," he adds.

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BJP's First List

The BJP, which has gained the impression that it is losing steam in Telangana over the past few months, has brought out its big guns in the first list.

In fact, it has named three of its four sitting MPs – namely Bandi Sanjay Kumar, Soyam Bapu Rao, and Dharmapuri Arvind – as Assembly candidates.

"The BJP has been getting an image that it is only focusing on the Lok Sabha polls and has given up on the Assembly elections. So, they have fielded these MPs to make sure they have some ground ahead of the Lok Sabha elections," opines Roshan Ali.

"No political party would not want to give a clear indication to people that they have withdrawn from the competition. They can't do that if they want to perform in the Lok Sabha elections. Neither Bandi Sanjay Kumar nor Dharmapuri Arvind are interested in the Assembly polls because they know it is harder to win this."

Speaking to The Quint earlier, NV Subash, Telangana BJP spokesperson, had said, "Contrary to the speculation which speaks of our non-intent to put up a fight, we are resolute in our objective to win more seats in this election. We are focused on concentrating our efforts in a limited number of seats and win decisively from those constituencies."

The Bharatiya Janata Party's tally is predicted to be less than 10 this time around, according to major mood surveys. The Congress and the BRS, meanwhile, are in for a tight, 50-50 fight in Telangana.

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