Bengaluru: The two-time BJP MLA from Telangana, Tiger Raja Naval Singh Lodh, is no stranger to controversy.
Known to dole out one inflammatory speech after another — from calling for Rohingyas to be shot to threatening to behead those who oppose the Ram Temple in Ayodhya — Singh has hogged headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The MLA is now once again in the news, only this time he is garnering global attention.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) piece, accusing Facebook India of favouring the BJP to protect its businesses in the country, pivots heavily on the social media giant’s actions, or inaction, against Singh.
The report alleges that Facebook’s top public policy executive in the country, Ankhi Das, stepped in and ensured that Singh’s hate-speech posts were not censored. “The current and former Facebook employees said Ms. Das’s intervention on behalf of Mr. Singh is part of a broader pattern of favoritism by Facebook toward Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindu hard-liners,” the report said.
Singh, however, is defiant. “I have only expressed my views. Why should I apologise? I have the right to my opinion,” he told ThePrint over the phone.
“I have said that Rohingya Muslims should be sent to their homes,” he added. “I am not against patriotic Muslims. I am against those who are eating here and speaking against Hindus; I will not tolerate them.”
Facebook on 3 September said it had banned Raja Singh from its platform for “violating our policy prohibiting those that promote or engage in violence and hate from having a presence on our platform”. The social media giant’s decision came after facing weeks of blowback due to the WSJ article, which resulted in a parliamentary standing committee deposing Facebook India head, Ajit Mohan.
In conversation with ThePrint, the MLA disputed the WSJ piece, claiming that Facebook has acted against him. “My page was deleted in 2018 after a few people complained about it,” he claimed. “I had approached Facebook three to four times to restore my account but they have not done so. Several other people are operating pages in my name and posting content. What can I do?”
He also objected to allegations that Facebook was favouring the BJP. “Facebook is a neutral social media platform. The opposition is only targeting the BJP and Facebook due to politics,” he said. “If (Asaduddin) Owaisi is present on Facebook and they are not censoring him, how can Facebook be helping the BJP?”
The BJP MLA with roots in the TDP
The 43-year-old Singh is a two-time MLA from Goshamahal constituency, a suburb in Hyderabad. He joined the BJP in 2013, before winning the assembly election, for the first time, in 2014. He retained his seat in 2018 (elections were called early in the state).
Before his stint in the BJP, Singh was a little-known corporator of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in what was then undivided Andhra Pradesh. He claims to be “literate informally educated” in his election affidavit.
Since joining the BJP, however, he has metamorphosed into a hardline Hindutva leader.
His website describes him as being from a “simple but devoted Hindu family”; for the Hyderabad Police, however, he is a known history sheeter with a penchant for hate speech.
According to police records, Singh has 43 cases lodged against him, a majority of which relate to hate speech. Charge sheets have been filed in 16 cases.
Some 17 cases are related to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion or race and disrupting harmony while another nine relate to malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.
Other FIRs include those for obstructing a public servant from discharging duties, criminal intimidation, rioting and even attempt to murder.
Singh, however, insists that the cases are all “politically motivated”.
“I am the convener of a cow protection group; most of the cases are related to this,” he said. “I have repeatedly said that if anyone hurts a cow and eats beef, I will be the first to hurt them to protect the cow. What is the harm in protecting cows?”
He was also unapologetic. “I have also said if anyone opposes the Ram Mandir, I will chop off their hands,” he said. “I am here to protect Hindus.”
The hate-speech spreadsheet
Singh has a penchant for stirring up controversy with his provocative remarks.
In December 2015, he threatened to create a “Dadri-like situation” — a reference to the Muslim man lynched in Uttar Pradesh on suspicion of carrying beef — after students of Osmania University in Hyderabad made plans to organise a beef festival on campus.
“People are entitled to eat whatever they wish. But if they try to hurt religious sentiments, we will stop such acts,” he had said then. “I am warning them, there will be another Dadri-like situation in Telangana. We can give our lives and take lives too.”
In 2017, he called for the “beheading of those who oppose the Ram temple”, leading to tension in the state.
In January this year, Singh reiterated his threat to kill the “Owaisi brothers” — AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi and his brother Akbaruddin Owaisi — and bring an end to all those who oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
“What is the problem with CAA or NRC? It does not threaten Muslims of our country,” he had told ThePrint then. “It will actually cleanse the country of infiltrators and I will clear the ones supporting them.”
Critics, however, say that much of Singh’s speeches are deliberately provocative and an attempt by him to stay relevant.
The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti’s social media convenor Krishank M. told ThePrint that Singh is a ‘habitual offender’, who constantly tries to create headlines with his inflammatory remarks.
“He does not have any knowledge about subjects like Article 370, which his party implemented and when given time to speak about it in the assembly, he could not even express his views,” Krishank said. “He has very limited support in his constituency and he will lose that soon in the next election.”
The state BJP, however, insists that he is just doing his job as an “MLA who is protecting his constituents”.
“Most of the time, Raja Singh reacts to statements made either by the Owaisi brothers or AIMIM leaders. But his statements are seen in isolation,” the Telangana BJP spokesperson Krishna Sagar Rao told ThePrint.
“Singh should probably stop reacting to issues that are being thrown at him. But he as an MLA has the responsibility to safeguard his constituents from the threats and slander as they vote for him for that protection.”
(The copy has been updated to include Facebook’s decision to ban on Raja Singh.)