Shivaji statues in Telangana: BJP’s politics of Hindu right-wing iconography, Dalit backlash

The Dalits and the Backward Castes’ differences over installation of Ambedkar and Shivaji statues has proven to be a hurdle for the BJP.

WrittenBy:Balakrishna Ganeshan
Illustration of Telangana map with pictures of Shivaji and Ambedkar statues.
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The Bharatiya Janata Party has worked aggressively to make electoral gains in Telangana. But the primary contest in the state is between the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi and the Congress, while the BJP remains a distant third in the political discourse. 

However, it would be naïve to undermine the impact of the Hindu right-wing party that has mobilised various communities in Telangana under the Hindu identity, one of their methods of consolidation being the use of Shivaji statues to whip up communal passions. 

Right-wing forces position Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji as a Hindu king who ‘fought against Muslim rulers’, while historic accounts testify that he was a king belonging to a marginalised caste and held secular values. 

In the past few years, there have been several communal tensions in the state around the erection of Shivaji statues – which are now part of the Hindu right wing’s iconography. Though Shivaji’s legacy lies in bordering Maharashtra and has little to do with the history of Telangana, the BJP has been raising statues of the late king as a “Hindu icon” in many parts of the state — purportedly to assert their dominance and mark their presence. 

This is significantly visible in districts such as Adilabad, Nizamabad and Nirmal, which border Maharashtra. Parts of these districts are also communally sensitive due to constant flare-ups between Hindus and Muslims.  

But in the BJP’s elaborate plan to unify various communities under a singular Hindu identity, by erecting Shivaji statues, the Dalits seem to have emerged as a problem. 

A recent incident in Vikarabad district, about 75 kilometres from Hyderabad, laid bare the tension between the Dalits and the Backward Class communities, who are rallying behind the BJP. Devanoor village in Yalal Mandal of Vikarabad 

Earlier in January, a Dalit youth named Mettli Naresh from Devanoor village in Yalal Mandal of Vikarabad was almost lynched to death by an angry mob after a conflict over the installation of an Ambedkar statue vis-à-vis the Shivaji statue near the village entrance. The clashes culminated into communal tensions.  

Among the many villages in Yalal Mandal that have committees of Hindu Yuva Vahini, a militant organisation, Devanoor too has active members. Most of these HVY members in Devanoor are from Mudiraj, Yadav, and Goud communities, which are classified as the Backward Classes. 

When Dalits wanted to install the statue of Ambedkar in the village, members of the HVY protested, demanding a Shivaji statue instead. The Ambedkar statue was gifted by BRS Tandur MLA Pilot Rohith Reddy. 

An argument took place between Dalit youth Naresh and Bodka Narender, a member of the HYV from the Yadav community. Bodka alleged that Naresh abused him. At that time, Bodka was observing Shiva deeksha by wearing a sacred chain (devotees at this time observe abstinence, walk barefoot, and give up meat). Subsequently, Naresh was arrested for allegedly abusing the HYV member. 

Next, a large mob of Shiva devotees lay siege to the police station and attacked Naresh until he collapsed. A few police personnel were also injured in the incident. A local BJP leader named Murali Goud had allegedly instigated the mob to carry out the violence, the police said. He was also arrested later on.  

Before this incident, Bairi Naresh, a rationalist, had stoked communal tensions with his alleged derogatory speech against Lord Ayappa at a gathering in Kodangal of Vikarabad district. 

There have been other incidents of clashes between Dalits and BCs over the installation of the Ambedkar statue versus the Shivaji statue. 

As the conflict between Dalits and BCs erupted over the Ambedkar statue, Tandur legislator Rohith Reddy promised to get a Shivaji statue installed to appease the other group. These incidents are indicative of the BJP’s victory in bringing together Hindus through the politics of iconography. 

While these undercurrent tensions may not pay immediate dividends to the BJP in this election, they will remain an electoral bait in the years to come. 

This report has been published as part of the joint NL-TNM Election Fund and is supported by hundreds of readers. Click here to power our ground reports.


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