Is RSS Man BL Santhosh’s ‘Purity Complex’ Hurting Karnataka BJP?
A hard core RSS man, BL Santosh is emerging as a dark horse in Karnataka politics
BL Santhosh has not shared the stage in a major political function, he doesn’t appear in the media often and, in fact, unlike his colleagues, he doesn’t even have a verified Twitter account.
Having maintained a largely low-profile, several party workers sometimes walk past him in political functions, failing to recognise the BJP’s national joint organising secretary.
But this RSS loyalist has emerged as a power centre within the Karnataka BJP and is now a force to reckon with. His organisational skills have made him the go-to man for BJP’s political strategy in Karnataka, and party members say he is simple with a clean record.
With Assembly elections just months away, Santhosh is seen as the dark horse in the race to the CM’s post by many in the party. But, will differences between him and Karnataka BJP president BS Yeddyurappa be a problem in the upcoming elections?
A Media Shy, Backroom Man
Ahead of BJP’s state executive in Mysuru earlier this year, flex boards bearing BL Santhosh’s photograph were removed in a hurry, allegedly at Yeddyurappa’s behest. But those close to Santhosh say it’s likely that he himself ordered the removal of the hoardings. He thrives in the backroom, but avoids being in the public glare.
Engineer by Training, Full-Time RSS Man
A chemical engineer by training, Santhosh hails from Puttur in Dakshina Kannada district, but was born and raised in Bengaluru. From a humble family background, his father ran a canteen.
Unmarried and a full-time RSS pracharak, Santhosh worked in Mysuru and Shimoga districts before becoming the state BJP's organisational secretary a decade ago. Since then, he has been known for his ability to mobilise masses. His campaigns to increase the party’s membership across the state and getting working professionals to take sabbaticals to work for the BJP ahead of elections have cemented his place in the party as a strategist.
‘The Purity Complex’
Among the rank and file of the BJP and the RSS, Santhosh is known as a dedicated party man with no selfish ambitions. “He is a simple man. You will see him mostly in his panche (dhoti) and kurta, with a sling back. His biggest strength is his honesty. He has maintained a clean record throughout his career in the party,” said a senior BJP leader.
“But that is his big problem too. He is self-righteous. He has a ‘purity complex’. Proud of his righteousness, he looks down on party leaders he doesn’t approve of. You can’t take a party through elections if you despise your own party workers,” he pointed out.
According to party sources, even though he has been given the task of managing BJP’s election campaign, his self-righteousness has caused many senior leaders in Karnataka BJP to distance themselves from Santhosh.
Brain Behind a Rebellion
Some say it is this purity complex that may have driven a wedge with Yeddyurappa.
Though they worked together in Shimoga district in the early 2000s, a difference over ideology is said to have caused them to drift apart. “Santhosh is a hardcore RSS man, who believes the organisation comes first, but Yeddyurappa focused on caste politics. Several BJP members, despite their hard work, were not getting posts because of Yeddyurappa’s politics. The problems began here,” said a BJP leader close to Santhosh.
But it was when corruption charges were levelled against Yeddyurappa by the Karnataka Lokayukatha in 2011 that the two leaders went to war. Santhosh is alleged to have played a role in making Yeddyurappa resign from the Chief Minister’s post.
In 2012, Yeddyurappa split from the party and floated his own political party – the Karnataka Janata Party. Since his return to the party in 2014, the rift between the two has become bigger. “Santhosh managed the Assembly election in 2013, where the split in the BJP helped the Congress. He considers that to be a big blow for the image of the party,” added another BJP leader.
A Truce That Failed
During BJP national president Amit Shah’s three-day visit to Bengaluru in August this year, Santhosh was asked to give a presentation on the party’s position in Karnataka.
Following the meeting, Yeddyurappa and Santhosh announced a truce and promised to work together. However, within weeks of the truce, the infighting began once more, with both leaders scrambling to complain against each other to Shah.
The running feud between the two is now a growing concern among many within the party. “Yeddyurappa is the party’s face in the state and Santhosh the strategist. If they keep trying to edge each other out, this election will be easier for the Congress. Also, a strategist is replaceable. The face of the party is not,” said a senior leader.
Not Karnataka’s Yogi Adityanath
Many compare Santhosh with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Haryana’s Manohar Lak Khattar, who were RSS pracharaks. However, some party members believe this comparison is flawed. “Unlike these two, who were politically active and ambitious, Santhosh has no political ambitions. In the many interactions we’ve had, he has made this clear. He is definitely not a Chief Minister candidate,” claimed another BJP leader.
Though many in the BJP swear by his lack of Chief Ministerial ambitions, his crusade against Yeddyurappa has raised doubts. “He might be an honest man, but from where I stand, Yeddyurappa is the face of the BJP in the upcoming elections. And if he is sidelined in the decision making, like he has alleged, there will be a vacuum in the leadership. This is then a perfect opportunity for Santhosh to become Chief Minister. I believe Santhosh is waiting and watching,” said a former minister and BJP leader.
“I’m Not A Politician, Spare the Questions”
When The Quint contacted Santhosh and told him that we want to write a profile on him, he said, “I am not a politician. Please spare me from these questions. To write is your liberty, but not to comment is mine.”
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