Hyderabad: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Telangana unit president Bandi Sanjay likes to call himself a “protector of Hindu dharma”. From his karsevak days during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement to being a state unit chief and MP now, Sanjay has firmly stood in line with his party’s Hindutva ideology.
At a public meeting held last week to kick off Sanjay’s mega walkathon (‘Praja Sangrama Yatra’) from Hyderabad to Huzurabad (slated for a bypoll) in the first phase, the 50-year-old MP from Karimnagar announced: “In the coming days…every ‘Hindu’ in Telangana will be proud to call themselves one and BJP will work towards such a scenario.”
This was not out of the ordinary. Since taking over the reins of the state unit in March 2020, Sanjay has been unapologetic about his fight for “Hindus”. And in his journey so far, he has made several communally-sensitive statements, mostly in the once Nizam-ruled Hyderabad.
He kicked off his ‘padayatra’ from Bhagyalakshmi temple — a tiny temple in the old parts of the city, adjacent to historic monument Charminar, which was made a poll focus by the BJP during the municipal polls last year. In the elections, the party outperformed its previous tally by over ten times, marking a successful start for Sanjay’s tenure.
While inaugurating the padayatra, Sanjay said the BJP will drive out Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) — which dominates the old parts of the Telangana capital, owing to its majority Muslim population — and its supporters who share the “Taliban ideology”.
“Whose ‘adda’ is Bhagyalakshmi temple? Old city is ours, Telangana is ours — we will come to any ‘basthi’ (colony), any lane, our leader is Narendra Modi… AIMIM which shares the Taliban ideology and others supporting it will be driven out and that is BJP’s aim,” he said.
Union Minister for Culture and Tourism G. Kishan Reddy and party state in-charge Tarun Chugh were present at the dais.
Before he started the padayatra, posters featuring the BJP flag on Charminar led to a police complaint against him and other party leaders. Despite this, Sanjay said the party flag would be installed on the city’s historic monument Golconda Fort.
A large part of the Hyderabad municipal poll campaign last year, in which even Union Minister Amit Shah participated, revolved around Sanjay’s statements that there would be “surgical strikes” on older parts of the city to remove illegal Rohingya migrants from Myanmar, and “Pakistanis”.
“The other day Owaisi asked Amit Shah what he was doing about the Rohingyas issue in Hyderabad. I want to tell him, if BJP comes to power — Rohingyas, Pakistanis and Afghans living in the old city will be driven out through a surgical strike. Elections will be free from these votes,” he said.
The comment drew ire from K.T. Rama Rao, state municipal minister and CM K. Chandrashekar Rao’s son, who called it “reprehensible and hate-filled”.
Around the same time, the BJP state chief also asked people if they wanted a “Bhagyanagar in Hindustan”, or Hyderabad, like in Pakistan. The statement put Hyderabad’s name change to ‘Bhagyanagar’ on the poll agenda. Later, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also pitched for the same.
Sanjay, who is considered to be an articulate, staunch critic of CM Rao, also repeatedly lashed out at the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi and its friendly party AIMIM, claiming that voting for TRS would mean voting for AIMIM.
ThePrint reached him for a comment via call and text but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.
His political journey
Bandi Sanjay has no notable political background. He hails from a middle-class family and started off by joining the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a right-wing student organisation affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
As a 20-year-old young karsevak (volunteer), he went to Ayodhya to support the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the early 1990s, one of his close aides told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
Sanjay won as MP from Karimnagar in 2019 — his first big win prior to that was that of a local municipal corporator. He had lost both 2014 and 2018 assembly elections.
One of the incidents that helped him shoot to fame during his tenure as a corporator in Karimnagar was a ‘Mahashakthi’ temple that he built in the town about almost a decade ago. Even now, when he goes to Karimnagar, he pays a visit to the temple and interacts with people, local BJP leaders say.
“There was land allotted for a park in a residential colony and that was being encroached. So, that is when Sanjay stepped in, he was a corporator then and built a temple to stop that land from being encroached. Funds were collected and since the colony was mostly home to Hindus, it worked out well. His idea was — no one would encroach it if a temple is built on the land,” party leader Beti Mahender Reddy told ThePrint.
Will polarisation help?
Bandi Sanjay’s communally-sensitive statements aren’t a new phenomenon. But he is not alone. Other parties have been accused of the same.
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi’s younger brother, Akbaruddin Owaisi, has also courted controversies for his statements. The most infamous one was in 2013 where he said that “if police is removed for 15 minutes, we (Muslims) will finish 100 crore Hindus”. A reference to that speech brought the MLA a police case for hate speech in 2019.
According to political analysts, Telangana, and Hyderabad in particular, are now seeing growing polarisation attempts by all parties, unlike earlier.
“AIMIM has always been a minority party. Not like they haven’t said polarising statements in the past. Old city is their bastion,” said an analyst on condition of anonymity.
But will Sanjay’s fight for ‘Hindus’ benefit BJP electorally? Unlikely, say experts.
“Unlike Hyderabad, Telangana’s rural pockets are not so communally divided — so this Hindu campaign will hardly have any effect there. Even in Hyderabad, it is just a few areas,” political observer Suresh Alapati told ThePrint.
“And in the last seven years, KCR’s party has established itself very firmly. If BJP wants to throw them out, they will need a detailed strategy starting from strengthening ground cadre to top-most level. Money is not an issue for that party anyway,” Suresh said.
CM KCR has openly expressed his devotional beliefs in the past through multiple ‘yagnas’ and ‘pujas’. KCR also sanctioned about Rs 1200 crore for giving the entire Yadadri temple town (Yadagirigutta) a grand, lavish makeover. Yadagirigutta is Telangana’s one of the most popular religious destinations.