‍‍Nowadays, making provocative speeches has become a fashion to political leaders.  Here in Telangana’s BJP MP Soyam Bapurao is the state president of Tudum Debba- an Adivasi organisation with ultra-left leanings.

When BJP MP Soyam Bapurao took the stage at the Shoba Yatra rally in Bhainsa held earlier this month, his supporters knew what to expect. The Adilabad MP who belongs to the Gond community (Adivasi) and has fought for the rights of the community, has found a new issue. Muslim bashing. In a provocative speech at the event, he labelled all Muslims as being ‘traitors’ and said, “In India, there is a group who are anti-Hindus…they live in India, breathe India’s air, drink India’s water… but say Pakistan zindabad.”

The MP has also been vocal against Muslim men “luring women” from the Adivasi community – the ‘Love Jihad’ propaganda. For those who have been following Soyam Bapurao, his shift in the political stance tilting towards the hardcore RSS ideology, has been shocking.

Bapurao comes from a left background. He is the state president of Tudum Debba- an Adivasi organisation, with ultra-left leanings. The organisation was banned briefly last year by the Telangana state government for being a frontal organisation of outlawed CPI-Maoist party.

It was a curious case of the state’s agencies maintaining surveillance on Tudum Debba which was being administered by a Parliamentarian. 

Early foray into Adivasi rights

Before making his foray into politics, Bapurao was a teacher who then showed interest in Tudum Debba’s politics and turned into an Adivasi leader, with a significant following in Adilabad. He had led several protests demanding rights for the Adivasis. Bapurao first joined the TRS party in 2004 and was elected from the Boath constituency as the MLA. He quit the party and joined the Congress in 2006, but was not elected to power till 2019. His mobilisation and the image of being the representative of the Adivasi community, earned him the BJP MP ticket in 2019, where he won with a huge margin of nearly 59,000 votes against TRS candidate Godem Nagesh.

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Interestingly, just four months before the Parliamentary elections, Bapurao contested as the Congress candidate from Boath, but was defeated by a thin margin. 

Speaking to #KhabarLive, Soyam Bapurao insisted that he still identified himself as an Adivasi leader, more than a politician. When asked about his anti-muslim speeches, the MP is unapologetic, “In reality what is happening in our region is that Muslims are somehow luring our girls (Adivasi women) and taking them away. This is not right. We shouldn’t marry their women and they also shouldn’t get into our way of life. We should follow our faith and they should follow theirs.

Besides this, there is also a threat of conversions because of Christians. They (Christians) are trying to convert our people by luring us with money. This is not happening in Telangana or Andhra Pradesh alone, but across the country. Our culture and lifestyle is under a threat because of these factors.”

But those who had worked with Bapurao previously and participated in the Adivasi struggle, say he has been alienating himself from the Adivasi cause simply for his hunger to retain power.

“We are quite taken aback by his shift. We did not expect this from him. His anti-Muslim rhetorics are condemnable. Instead of focusing on working for the people in his constituency and the Adivasi people who voted him to power, he has been engaging in spreading communal hatred,” said Athram Bhujangrao, an Adivasi human rights activist based in Adilabad.

The activist worked with Bapurao on several Adivasi struggles. “Our ideology aligned well and we worked towards the common good of welfare to the Adivasis, who continue to be ignored.” 

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Bapurao’s influence is not merely confined to the Adilabad region, which has a significant Adivasi population, but also to other tribal belts. His influence grew further during the agitation against Lambadas- a community classified as Scheduled Tribes (ST).

In 2019, Bapurao demanded the government de-list Lambada community from ST status, accusing the community of exploiting the opportunities of education and employment.   

RSS unhappy with Bapurao

According to insiders, the reason for Bapurao’s aggressive campaign against Muslims is because the RSS is not pleased with him. “For the last two years, the RSS leadership has been asking him to participate as the chief guest for Dasara festivities where the effigy of Ravana would be burnt, but he refused to be part of it. Similarly, he did not participate in the ‘Sarvajanika Utsav’ of the RSS which was held in Hyderabad, four years ago,” said a source.

Bapurao refused to be part of the Dasara festivities, as some Adivasis consider Ravana to be their king. “He has already angered the RSS twice. Now he does not want to take any further chances. The RSS is also considering replacing him with someone who firmly believes in their ideology and not a candidate like Bapurao.”      

It is a distinct possibility that the RSS might find their ideal candidate, since they have been showing increased interest in Telangana’s Adilabad region, which has both the presence of Muslim population and Adivasi population. 

Recently, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat visited Adilabad and participated in an event interacting with the farmers from the state, while the farmers from Punjab, Haryana and UP were protesting in Delhi against the farm bills. 

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Bapurao showing interest in Hindu festivals, has also raised concerns amongst the Adivasis, who have been fighting against the erasure of their culture. They fear that Bapurao will become a tool in the Hindutva campaign by stoking hatred between Adivasis and Muslims, and cause irreparable damage.

“I have worked with him for 20 years and he is a good man. I supported him for all the causes he took up, but he has been avoiding me lately, because of my politics of being democratic and secular. Maybe he got a warning from the top brass for his association with me,” said an activist. “It is the political compulsion which is making him do what he is doing,” he added.

The concerns expressed by Adivasis who had been rallying around Bapurao is valid because the MP tells #KhabarLive, “In all our Adivasi villages we had Hanuman deities. Even when we were young, we used to participate in Ram Navami festivities. We participated in the Ramayana plays. But we never had any temple for Ravana as some people claim.” 

Senior journalist Pillalamari Srinivas who is based in Adilabad says, “Though the MP has been talking in the RSS language, he is making these anti-Muslim statements where the ground is already radicalised. He is making these hate speeches in Nirmal town, Bhainsa and Adilabad town, where the ground is polarised. These speeches are yet to find a resonance among the Adivasis.”

According to the journalist, it may take time for the Adivasis to tilt towards the Hindutva cause, but it is not impossible. “These organisations work for decades towards the cause and they are committed to the cause. So it is not impossible for them to antagonise Muslims in the mind of Adivasis.” #KhabarLive #hydnews