Police in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad have arrested a local lawmaker from the country’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for making controversial remarks against the Prophet Muhammad.
Thakur Raja Singh’s comments sparked massive outrage and triggered protests from the Muslim community.
A two-time legislator in the assembly of the southern state of Telangana – of which Hyderabad is the capital – Mr Singh has often hit the headlines for anti-Muslim hate speeches. Two years ago, Facebook banned him for violating their hate-speech policies.
The BJP, already dealing with the fallout from similar controversial comments made two months back by former spokesperson Nupur Sharma, quickly suspended him from the party and sent him a notice asking him to explain why he should not be expelled.
The party also said that Mr Singh’s views were his own and that they were contrary to the party’s position.
The politician had been briefly arrested on Tuesday morning, before a court freed him on bail because of a technical error on part of the police.
Police then appealed for calm and said they were working to re-arrest him, but the protests continued.
Late on Wednesday night, a large number of Muslims gathered in parts of the city, raising slogans, pelting stones and burning Mr Singh’s effigies. Many were seen hitting his posters with shoes while calling for his arrest. Videos showed police using sticks to beat back the protesters and arresting them.
On Thursday morning, reports said the situation remained tense on the ground and paramilitary troops had been deployed in affected areas to maintain peace. Some schools, shops and fuel stations were also shut.
Trouble had been brewing in Hyderabad since last week when police placed Mr Singh under house arrest for announcing “violent plans” to stop Muslim comedian Munawar Faruqui’s show – he had threatened to beat him up and burn down the venue. Mr Faruqui had been arrested in 2021 and spent a month in jail for allegedly outraging religious feelings with his jokes, a charge he has denied.
Mr Singh warned that if the show was allowed to go on in Hyderabad under police protection, he would also do a show which “would make Hindus proud”, BBC Telugu reported.
Image source, ANI
Image caption, Paramilitary troops have been deployed in Hyderabad to maintain peace
After Mr Faruqui’s show on Sunday evening passed off peacefully, Mr Singh on Monday night uploaded a 10-minute video on YouTube – the platform has since removed it – in which he was seen making comments similar to those made by Ms Sharma, which had angered Indian Muslims and outraged Islamic nations.
In his defence, Mr Singh has said that his video is not against any religion or community and that it is “a comedy video” which is against Mr Faruqui – whom he accuses of insulting Hindu gods and goddesses.
“I did not take the name of any particular community. My video was aimed at Faruqui and I stand by my words, and I did not hurt anyone’s sentiments,” the Indian Express quoted him as saying.
He also threatened to release “a second video” saying that this was only “the first part of the video”.
Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi – who belongs to the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), a regional party with the majority of its support coming from Muslims – condemned his comments and called him “a danger to peace in Hyderabad”.
But upon his release on Tuesday evening, Mr Singh was welcomed with garlands by supporters, who also chanted Hindu religious slogans outside his home.
Who is Thakur Raja Singh?
The two-term legislator represents Goshamahal constituency in the Telangana state assembly and has been BJP’s floor leader for some time now.
Critics call him a “hate monger”, while supporters describe him as a “fearless Hindu warrior” and have threatened to boycott the BJP if it doesn’t cancel his suspension.
Known for his hardline religious rhetoric, the 45-year-old politician regularly makes news for anti-Muslim speeches and coming in conflict with the police.
According to an affidavit he submitted to the election commission before the 2018 state assembly polls, there were 43 cases registered against him and the charges included hate speech, rioting, attempt to murder and taking out rallies without permission.
Image source, TWITTER/TIGERRAJASINGH
Image caption, In a photo Raja Singh shared on Twitter, he’s seen greeting PM Narendra Modi
Over the years, several of these cases have made headlines in India.
In 2015, he was accused of attacking police when they stopped him from playing loud music after midnight at a wedding. A court later convicted him for “obstructing police from performing their duties and for causing hurt” and ordered him to pay a fine.
In 2019, after another scuffle with the police, he claimed that he had severe injuries because he had been assaulted by four policemen. Police said his injuries were self-inflicted and released a video that showed Mr Singh hitting himself on the head with a boulder.
The same year, he was criticised after he said he would not be administered oath in the assembly by a Muslim member of the AIMIM.
His 2018 comments calling Rohingya Muslims as “terrorists… who should be shot” had resulted in outrage. He was also criticised for demanding that the refugees should be sent away from India but said he stood by his remarks.
In 2020, he was banned from Facebook and Instagram “for violating [their] policy prohibiting those that promote or engage in violence and hate from having a presence on our platform”.
On that occasion, Mr Singh had said that he had no Facebook account for over a year and that it was hacked.
Hours before his arrest on Thursday afternoon, he released a video where he accused his political rivals of trying to appease Muslims and said that the national media was misrepresenting facts. The next battle, he added, would be fought in court.