Last week’s cabinet reshuffle saw many new faces and some got elevated to higher ranks, but the name that grabbed most attention in the BJP and RSS is of party’s national general secretary (organization) BL Santhosh, who insiders believe, had emerged much stronger after the reset and had his stamp of approval on most of the names.
Until three years ago, Santhosh was a stranger to New Delhi. A full-time RSS volunteer from Karnataka, who was controlling the reins of state BJP, was a powerful figure in charge of the party but often at odds with chief minister and saffron stalwart BS Yediyurappa.
Santhosh’s overnight elevation to all powerful BJP national general secretary in charge of organisation had raised eyebrows both within and outside the RSS. Some had predicted that he was going to find New Delhi tough and would fail. Others had a faith that he would do well maneuvering the corridors of power in Lutyens’ Delhi.
Santhosh in his white flowing ‘dhoti’ and half-sleeves shirt has been a familiar figure in the RSS and BJP for over a decade. Born in coastal Udupi, Santhosh did his engineering from central Karnataka city of Davanagere and joined the RSS as a full timer. For several years, he was posted in Shimoga, the home town of Yediyurappa. According to locals, both had a good understanding and rapport. Santosh, popularly known as Santhoshji landed in Bengaluru over a decade ago and made state BJP headquarters his home. He was closely identified with late Union minister Ananthkumar for some years.
A recluse by nature, Santhosh is a doer. He rarely used to meet the people outside Pariwar and almost all his interactions with the media are still off the record. People close to him claim that he firmly believes in the core of RSS and under no circumstances will deviate from its ideology. A sharp analyst, Santhosh likes to control the levers of power from behind the scene.
As organisation in charge of Karnataka BJP, he was the final word on many issues, but always maintained a low profile, not taking any credit in the public. He and Yediyurappa had serious differences over functioning of the party and many a times, it spilled over to public domain embarrassing the organisation. But, Santhosh kept his nerve and made sure that there was no public spat.
After he was sent to New Delhi to coordinate between the RSS and BJP, Yediyurappa heaved a sigh of relief claim his confidantes.
A quick learner Santhosh, familiarised himself with the politics of New Delhi within no time. Now he easily deals with the complex issues and can handle any crisis say people in the clique.
“Many thought and some had even secretly hoped that he was going to be a disaster in New Delhi. He has proved all of them wrong by taking absolute control of the organisation and winning the complete trust of PM Modi,” said a Karnataka BJP MP, who did not wish to be identified.
During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Santhosh demonstrated his might by getting Bengaluru South MP ticket to his protégé Tejasvi Surya by checkmating Tejaswini, the widow of sitting MP Ananthkumar. Tejasvi Surya won and became BJP’s youth wing national president with the blessings of same Santosh, a year later.
The removal of minister DV Sadananda Gowda and induction of Shobha Karandlaje along with four others — A Narayanaswamy, Bhagwanth Khuba and Rajeev Chandrasekhar — into the new cabinet was Santhosh’s idea, according to state BJP insiders.
An avid reader, Santhosh is averse to interactions with the media and engages with the public through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. But he is not non-controversial. Sometimes his acerbic and immature tweets have led to furore creating embarrassment for the BJP. During last year’s US Presidential elections, his tweet that the current President and Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden had become an international news caused a stir and he had to later delete the tweet.
His meddling in the Karnataka politics is a well-known fact and some believe that he has set his eyes on the chair of chief minister. Some dismiss it as figment of imagination to discredit him.
Some say Santhosh can also take the same route as Modi who was the national general secretary in charge of organisation 20 years ago and then became Gujarat chief minister without any administrative experience.
‘Being Santhosh’ is most significant in BJP and those who know the power structure know his importance well.
Before Santhosh, a few from Karnataka had held top positions in the RSS. While late KS Sudarshan was the RSS chief, HV Sheshadri was RSS general secretary. The current RSS general secretary, Dattatreya Hosabale, widely tipped to be the next RSS chief, is also from Karnataka. Will Santhosh follow them and aspire to be a top RSS functionary or follow Modi to hold high political offices? Only the time will tell.