Bengaluru: On 15 October, the day of Vijayadashami, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) national general secretary (Organisation) B.L. Santosh met B.S. Yediyurappa at his residence. This was the first time that Santhosh was meeting the former chief minister since he had bid a tearful adieu to the top post.
The last time Santhosh met Yediyurappa was in May when discussions about a change of guard in Karnataka were at their peak. Every time the two leaders meet, political circles are abuzz with curiosity given the history of cold war between the leaders.
But since Yediyurappa’s ouster in July, Santhosh’s influence, control and authority in the Karnataka BJP is only growing by the day.
He may be holding a national leadership role since 2019 in the party, but the general secretary’s keen interest in Karnataka is fuelling the growth.
Whether it is because of his previous position as general secretary (organisation) for Karnataka or the fact that he hails from the state, Santhosh has become the state unit’s most prominent representative in New Delhi, party leaders say.
The beeline that legislators, workers and even ministers make to meet him when he is in Bengaluru is evidence of his popularity.
B.L. Santhosh and B.S. Yediyurappa
Even before Yediyurappa’s exit as chief minister, Santhosh was the ‘go-to guy’ for scores of BJP leaders from the state to raise concerns, approach the high command and even lobby for positions in the party and the government. Santhosh’s position has only been cemented by Yediyurappa’s exit as chief minister.
“He is the third in command after the two big names in Delhi,” a close aide of Yediyurappa told The Print.
Although deemed the former chief minister’s bete noire, Santhosh visits the veteran leader each time he is in Bengaluru — that is about three or four times in a year — but stays in the guest room at the BJP state unit’s headquarters.
“There is no animosity nor a need for it anymore. What needed to be done, has been done,” a BJP legislator, one among the many that Santhosh handpicked and groomed personally, told The Print, hinting at the national party leader’s role in Yediyurappa’s exit.
The cold war between the two was plain to see. Santhosh steered the party cadres after Yediyurappa quit the BJP in 2012, a move that hurt the party’s prospects in the 2013 assembly elections.
Even after Yediyurappa returned to the BJP, the fault lines between two factions that ran deep never healed, a source close to Santhosh said.
In April 2017, the cold war between the two leaders became public after senior leader K.S. Eshwarappa floated the ‘Sangolli Rayanna Brigade’ within the party.
It was a move that Yediyurappa, who was then the BJP state president, deemed as being “anti-party” and held Santhosh responsible for.
Not everyone, however, believes that there was or is a rift.
“Most times there is unnecessary speculation over the relationship between B.S. Yediyurappa and B.L. Santhosh, but I would like to say they are very cordial. Beyond the party, there is nothing personal. Party interests matter. Irrespective of small differences, they all work together,” B.Y. Vijayendra, BJP Karnataka vice-president and Yediyurappa’s son, told The Print.
He added that Santhosh was definitely a representative of the state unit in New Delhi but so was Union Minister Pralhad Joshi.
“They act as a bridge between us and the central leadership. Frankly, whether it is Santhosh, Yediyurappa or Pralhad Joshi, their aim is absolute majority for the BJP in Karnataka and they are all working towards that in their own styles,” he said.
Old roles help in new moves
The leadership role that Santhosh took on during Yediyurappa’s absence is now paying off in Karnataka — the only large South Indian state where the BJP wields power.
“B.L. Santhosh is someone who picks an ordinary karyakarta, gives him a chance, mentors him and takes him to the next level,” Preetham Gowda, the MLA from Hassan, a seat that barring 1999, the BJP had not won before 2018, told ThePrint.
“He knows booth-level karyakartas in the entire state. He is rooted here. He has trained karyakartas here. He wants to know what is the latest on all the leaders he has groomed and continues to monitor, guide and teach us,” Gowda said, highlighting why Santhosh is influential in the state.
Gowda added that Santhosh has a massive following in the party. This following that Santhosh has carefully crafted over the years keeps him glued to the state.
Such is the influence of Santhosh in Karnataka that legislators, workers of BJP go directly to him with their concerns against the party unit or the government, more so after Yediyurappa’s exit.
“It is a single power centre for BJP now in Karnataka. The chief minister is a feudatory of Delhi ‘lords’. High command, in the case of Karnataka, primarily operates through B.L. Santhosh. Given a strong leader like B.S. Yediyurappa and political complications in Karnataka, the top BJP leaders seem to believe that it is best left to be handled by someone who knows the state,” said A. Narayana, political analyst and faculty member at the School of Public Policy and Governance, Azim Premji University.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)