Bengaluru: A section of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s unit in Karnataka is not taking kindly to the appointment of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) loyalist Nalin Kumar Kateel as the state president.
Unimpressed with him, this section of the party’s state unit feels Kateel isn’t the right man for the job at hand, and that the central leadership is experimenting with a not-so-popular face who has little bearing on regions in the state beyond Dakshina Kannada, said sources in the party.
Others, however, have decided to fall in line with the high command’s choice, added the sources.
Kateel was appointed as state president on 20 August, nearly four months after he won the Lok Sabha polls from Dakshina Kannada.
‘He has never stepped out of Mangaluru’
The candidature of Kateel had been pushed by BJP general secretary (organisation) B.L. Santhosh.
Sources said Santhosh impressed upon BJP president Amit Shah about Kateel’s organisational skills and the need to give young leaders like him a chance. He was chosen over Chikkamagaluru MLA C.T. Ravi, a more accepted face and popular leader compared to Kateel.
Ever since, the party has been facing an internal turmoil.
Vijayapura City MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, who “advised” Kateel to visit all parts of the state, was one of the first voices of dissent.
“I am not opposed to his appointment. He has never stepped out of Mangaluru. My only advice for him is that he should leave Mangaluru and travel across Karnataka,” Yatnal said.
Another reason for the unhappiness among this section is the feeling that the Dakshina Kannada region of Karnataka doesn’t have state level mass leaders. They are popular in their own districts or constituencies, but not beyond that, said the sources.
“Take the example of D.V. Sadananda Gowda or Kateel. Their hold over their voters and region is very strong, but it stops there. They don’t have a state-wide connect like Yediyurappa,” said a senior BJP functionary who did not wish to be named.
There are very few leaders from Dakshina Kannada who may have even seen Gulbarga — a district in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region. It would be difficult for them to address the issues in areas beyond their region as there’s a cultural disconnect, said another senior BJP leader who didn’t wish to be identified.
By making Kateel the state unit president, the BJP leadership was looking at bridging this gap between Dakshina Kannada leaders and the rest of Karnataka, added the sources.
The ‘central’ question
Kateel has also been given the added responsibility of being the conduit between Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa and B.L. Santhosh, said the sources.
Yediyurappa believes Santhosh has been using his influence over the central leadership to interfere in his working in Karnataka, and also holds him responsible for losing the trust vote in the assembly last year.
For ‘hat-trick MP’ Kateel, one of the biggest tasks would be to assuage the growing tension between Yediyurappa and Santhosh. It would be tough as he is not assertive enough. Plus, his biggest qualification is his loyalty (to Santhosh), said another party leader who didn’t want to be named.
After Kateel fell out with his mentor, senior RSS leader Kalladka Prabhakar, Santhosh took him under his wings.
Dakshina Kannada is often called the Hindutva laboratory of southern India and has the highest number of RSS shakhas in the state.
Kateel has also had his fair share of issues with the central leadership in the past. In May, he was pulled up for a tweet on Nathuram Godse, in which Kateel compared former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin.
“Godse killed one, Kasab killed 72, Rajiv Gandhi killed 17,000. You judge who is crueler in this??” Kateel had tweeted, only to be forced to delete it soon after. Though the party initiated disciplinary action against him, no action was taken later.
‘Cadre man, with high level of commitment’
While the voices against the new Karnataka president have only grown louder, Karnataka BJP spokesperson Vaman Acharya told ThePrint that Kateel is a man whose roots are deep into the organisation.
In a party, any big decision will always be met with some amount of discomfort, but it would prove helpful for the in the long run, said Acharya.
“In the present situation when we have a dynamic CM like Yediyurappa at the helm, a smooth and silent operator like Kateel is just what the party needs. Soft spoken, low key in his operation with a high level of commitment apart from being a cadre man, he can bring in a lot of change to the party,” Acharya added.