Low-key worker with RSS roots: Why Nalin Kumar Kateel was BJP’s pick for K‘taka Chief

Nalin Kumar Kateel’s appointment is not only to act as a bridge between CM Yediyurappa and senior BJP leader BL Santhosh, but also between the party and the RSS.
Low-key worker with RSS roots: Why Nalin Kumar Kateel was BJP’s pick for K‘taka Chief
Low-key worker with RSS roots: Why Nalin Kumar Kateel was BJP’s pick for K‘taka Chief
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Like the common Hindi phrase “naam to suna hoga” (one must have heard the name), the appointment of Dakshina Kannada Lok Sabha MP Nalin Kumar Niranjan Shetty Kateel as the new Karnataka BJP President has two messages for Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa: the writ of BJP General Secretary (Organisation) BL Santhosh still runs large in the state despite sitting in the national capital and young Turks will henceforth be at the helm. 

The three-time MP Kateel (53), who will be the President till 2022 is expected to be the bridge between Yediyurappa and Santhosh as there is no love lost between the two despite the latter moving to national politics in recent months. Yediyurappa holds Santhosh responsible for allegedly fuelling a rebellion against him in the party in recent years. Relief, however, came for Yediyurappa when in July Santhosh replaced Ram Lal, who was repatriated to the RSS.

With Dakshina Kannada having the highest number of RSS shakhas and considered by the party as the Hindutva lab of south India, another indicator of Kateel’s appointment is the central leadership expects a synergy between the BJP and RSS, which has over the years been lost. Kateel has been a RSS pracharak all through his career. Even as a BJP MP his roots were deep into the organisation, which was one of the reasons that he was in charge of organizing BJP and Sangh protests over women of all ages being allowed into the Sabaimala temple last year in Kerala.  

A small-time civil contractor in Dakshina Kannada, Kateel representing the Bunt community, was initially the protégé of RSS ideologue Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat. When differences arose between Bhat and Santhosh, he followed the latter. “Kateel is a low-profile person, more of a party worker than a leader, this is a fact we have to accept. But whatever task is assigned to him, he does it,'' a senior BJP leader said.

According to BJP insiders the profile of Kateel as a low-key person is ideal in the present political circumstances for the party. “He has to soft pedal issues as the government is run by Yediyurappa who is known to be dynamic and aggressive. One cannot have a state President who is equally aggressive when the party is in power as it will lead to conflicts, which happened with N Dharam Singh as CM and B Janarhana Poojary as state Congress president,” said sources in the BJP.

With no Assembly Elections until 2023, provided the BJP government is stable, Kateel is said to be the appropriate choice, whose task will be to build the party. His appointment is also expected to reopen the doors of Santhosh's acolytes like Nirmal Kumar Surana and MB Bhanuprakash, who were both sacked by the party due to the infighting spilling out in public between Yediyurappa and minister KS Eshwarappa (Santhosh camp follower) in 2017. “The BJP's headquarters in Bengaluru’s Jagannath Bhavan will see these people back,” party sources said.

With Yediyurappa’s focusing his energies to become the Chief Minister, he had not been able to give attention to the building of the party. BJP observers said Kateel has his task cut out for him -of invigorating the grassroot workers to build the BJP’s citadel in the south and prepare an army which is ready at all times and not just during elections. 

“PM Narendra Modi is still needed to win the elections in Karnataka. The party President will have to make the outfit self-sustainable to get reelected while Modi will continue to be the catalyst.  The party's reach should be all round as the feedback now is that it is strong in Dakshina Kannada, fairly good in Bengaluru, but in districts like Koppal has minimal presence,” BJP sources said.

Naheed Ataulla is a journalist who covered Karnataka politics for over two decades and is former Political Editor of The Times of India.

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