A young man is on the frame on the left interacting via video conference with PM Narendra Modi on the right. As the young man starts to ask his question, Modi interjects and says 'Ji Tejasvi Surya... you are Surya yourself and you are Tejasvi'. It was high praise from the PM for a young lawyer from Bengaluru and the General Secretary of the Yuva Morcha in the city, during an interaction with the Karnataka Yuva Morcha in May 2018. That lawyer, Tejasvi Surya, has now been handpicked by the national BJP leadership to contest from the crucial Bengaluru South seat. But his name was not the natural choice for the state leadership, and selecting Tejasvi over Tejaswini Ananth Kumar, the wife of late Union Minister Ananth Kumar, has surprised many.
On Saturday evening, Tejaswini Ananth Kumar had visited the homes of BJP MLA from Basavanagudi – Ravi Subramanya and Tejasvi Surya, asking them to support her. the state leadership including leaders like BS Yeddyurappa and R Ashoka had already endorsed her candidature. Within a few hours, the situation changed. The party high command had decided that Tejaswini would not be given the ticket to contest polls from Bengaluru South. Instead, they were scouting for new candidates. Finally, the party narrowed down on Tejasvi Surya.
The bigger question, however, is – why did the BJP central leadership change its mind in the last minute? Sources in the BJP said that the RSS and BJP national leadership was of the opinion that Tejaswini Ananth Kumar was not an eligible candidate, especially if the party had to retain its bastion in the long run.
Making Bengaluru South an RSS hub
While the state BJP leadership rooted for Tejaswini, RSS leaders in the state like BL Santhosh had backed Tejasvi Surya's candidature from the constituency. With a sizable population of Brahmins and upper caste Hindus, Bengaluru South has been the base for RSS operations in the city for over two decades. The constituency also has a large chunk of people from the Vokkaliga and OBC communities, who have leaned towards the RSS and BJP.
“In order to maintain the voter base, the party decided that it would give importance to supporting the RSS in the region when it fielded Tejasvi Surya,” a BJP source said.
BJP insiders say that for both the party and the Sangh, a constituency like Bengaluru South is like Indore or Bhopal, cities that have been their pockets. Indore is from where Speaker of the Parliament Sumitra Mahajan has won elections since 1989. The BJP has retained the Bengaluru South seat since 1991 when K Venkatagiri Gowda won the elections. In 1996 Ananth Kumar won the seat and ensured that he won all subsequent elections ever since.
“The point was to give into the RSS demand of fielding a candidate acceptable to the Sangh. With pressure coming in from the sangh, they decided to field Tejasvi, who has been working with the RSS for a long time,” the source said.
A few BJP leaders believe that both Modi and Amit Shah did not share an amicable relationship with Ananth Kumar initially, as he was a supporter of LK Advani. "Perhaps, they didn't feel the necessity to fight for his wife's ticket. But more than all that, this was a clear tussle with the Sangh, and they have prevailed," another BJP leader in the city said.