The Karnataka BJP may exude absolute confidence about overcoming any opposition from the Congress in the 2018 Assembly Elections. But its own internal troubles, namely the hot-and-cold-war between BS Yeddyurappa and KS Eshwarappa, are another matter altogether.
The spat between the state party President and the Leader of Opposition in the Vidhana Parishad spikes into a full-blown war every few weeks, and has resisted even efforts by National President Amit Shah to settle the conflict. Many BJP members now believe that the feud has gone to such extents that it has even given the Congress a chance to laugh at the party.
On Thursday, however, Yeddyurappa thickened the plot, laying the blame for the spat squarely on National Joint Organising Secretary BL Santhosh. For the first time, Yeddyurappa has openly hit out at Santhosh, accusing him of backing Eshwarappa and engineering rebellion in the party.
This attack is significant, since Santhosh is a long-time RSS pracharak and holds a significant position in the national hierarchy of the BJP.
Who is BL Santhosh?
BL Santhosh, hailing from Kundapur, has been an RSS pracharak for decades. He came into Yeddyurappaâ€™s sphere of influence in 2005, when he began working in Shimoga when MB Bhanuprakash contested against former Chief Minister S Bangarappa for the Shimoga Lok Sabha seat.
Shimoga, significantly, is where both Yeddyurappa and Eshwarappa also hail from. Santhosh, who was an RSS nominee and the BJP Organising Secretary (a powerful post within the organisation), began working in Shimoga during the 2005 election.
According to sources, animosity between Yeddyurappa and Santhosh has been building for years. It is believed that Santhosh had a role to play in Yeddyurappaâ€™s resignation as Chief Minister in 2011, following an adverse report by Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde on his involvement in illegal mining. BL Santhosh, some say, was among those who convinced the BJP that it required a clean man at the top, and that Yeddyurappa should resign.
It is also believed that Santhosh was not entirely happy about Yeddyurappaâ€™s appointment to the top of the state BJP. When Yeddyurappa was appointed as the state party President in 2016, Santhosh had other names in mind, including CT Ravi and Eshwarappa, but the high command thought differently.
Santhoshâ€™s reasons for opposing Yeddyurappa?
While some say that Santhosh has nursed CM ambitions himself, and blame his animosity towards Yeddyurappa for this, a source close to him denied this vehemently. Instead, many leaders believe that Santhosh has valid reasons for his grouse against the former CM â€“ that the party organisation is being ignored, and that Yeddyurappa cannot be completely trusted.
"The organisational structure has been ignored. Santosh's complaint is right. The party will perish if the foundation isn't strong," a BJP source said.
"Even now his stand is clear. If Yeddyurappa is the CM candidate, then party has to be entrusted with someone else," a party insider said.
Yeddyurappaâ€™s detractors add that his allegations, that Santhosh was solely responsible for engineering a rebellion against him, are incorrect. "Eshwarappa has his own problems with BSY. Santosh first locked horns with BSY when the latter became CM," a source said.
According to these detractors, when Yeddyurappa became the CM, he ceased being a BJP man and became solely a Lingayat leader. He chose his caste over the party, and thereby weakened the latter, they allege.
What many of them hold against Yeddyurappa is that he left the party, built another party and vowed to destroy BJP. And they donâ€™t find his actions since his return to the BJP convincing of his loyalty to the party.
"Over the last few months, Yeddyurappa has given prominent posts to his confidantes who had ditched the party with him. This is one reason why people like Santosh don't trust Yeddyurappa," another source said.
Whether or not Santhosh has engineered the Eshwarappa rebellion, it is still true that his support counts for a lot, given that Santhosh is a pracharak that the BJP cannot afford to offend. This explains why, although Yeddyurappa and Eshwarappa were summoned to New Delhi a few days ago, no action was taken against the latter.
It seems that Yeddyurappa has now realised that he cannot take on Santhosh in a behind-the-scenes fight. Which is perhaps why the former CM has abandoned the cloak-and-dagger approach and has openly laid the blame for the partyâ€™s troubles at Santhoshâ€™s feet.