The iron ore mining scam in Karnataka during the previous BJP regime between 2008 and 2013, had badly dented the party’s image. The party had no hopes of winning the subsequent election. But three months ahead of the state elections, an English weekly (now defunct) did a cover story on RSS man BL Santhosh.
“Meet your real Chief Minister,” screamed the headline on the cover page with the photo of a dhoti-clad Santhosh. Several publications called him the Yogi Adityanath and Narendra Modi of Karnataka.
Not many knew that this media shy person, who rose to the ranks from a simple pracharak wielded more power than many BJP loyalists in the state and enjoyed the support from the party’s central leadership.
His rise was such that, at some point Yeddyurappa felt threatened by his rise. His organisational skills as an RSS worker clicked well for the party.
Cut to the present. On July 14, the party elevated 50-year-old Santhosh to the post of national general secretary (organisation), replacing Ram Lal who served the post for 13 years. His appointment is important for two reasons — one, Karnataka’s BJP could look at a new chief ministerial candidate beside Yeddyurappa and two, the party could push its focus to strengthen its base in south India.
With Aravind Limbavali, another RSS strongman in the state who was credited for the success of the BJP in Telangana, vying for the post of state party president post, it will give Santhosh more power.
Fearing that central leaders would clip his wings over mining scam, Yeddyurappa had brought in Union minister Sadananda Gowda to stop Santhosh’s rise. He had dragged Santhosh into a slugfest several times in the past besides accusing him of being an agent provocateur.
He even held Santhosh responsible for KS Eshwarappa’s rebellion against him and cautioned BJP MLAs that Santhosh was emerging as a “parallel leader” in the state politics.
Yeddyurappa had not taken Santhosh’s idealism seriously. Leaders in the RSS circles credited BJP’s rise in Karnataka, particularly in the south and coastal districts, to Santhosh’s organisations skills.
“His vision was very clear. He did not want people to just contest elections but wanted them to focus on ideology and he nurtured young leaders who believed in it,” RSS strongman Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat said.
“He ensured that the ‘samithi’ meetings were held regularly and promoted workers who were prompt at it. This encouraged a lot of people and they looked up to him as a strong leader,” he added.
When 28-year-old Tejasvi Surya was chosen over Tejaswini Ananth Kumar as candidate for Bangalore South constituency despite Yeddyurappa and his gang rooting for Tejaswini, it surprised many. But Surya had the backing of RSS leaders and Santhosh’s influence in it was against the decision of Yeddyurappa.
With Yeddyurappa, who turns 76 this year, the party had relaxed its unsaid rule of retirement age of 75 for him. Besides, the BJP allowed Yeddyurappa to continue as party president despite his three-year-term ending in April. For the party to look beyond Yeddyurappa, Santhosh could emerge as a strongman in Karnataka.