SHAH’S SILENT ENFORCER

India Today - - UPFRONT - —Uday Mahurkar

For a man said to have con­trolled the BJP with an iron hand when he was party pres­i­dent, Amit Shah proved sur­pris­ingly re­luc­tant to bring in his own team to help him re­or­gan­ise and re­build the party into the elec­tion-win­ning ma­chine it is to­day. He stuck with most of the top party func­tionar­ies left be­hind by his pre­de­ces­sor Ra­j­nath Singh. Now that he is in Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s cab­i­net—in prob­a­bly the most vi­tal and vis­i­ble post given Modi’s predilec­tion for for­eign af­fairs—Shah might, iron­i­cally, be ef­fect­ing the changes to the party’s or­gan­i­sa­tion that many thought he would as pres­i­dent.

The first step was the ap­point­ment last week of 53-year-old party stal­wart

B.L. San­thosh as the new na­tional general sec­re­tary (or­gan­i­sa­tion), re­plac­ing Ram­lal, 66, who re­turns to the RSS af­ter 13 years in the post. He had served the party well un­der var­i­ous pres­i­dents, in­clud­ing Shah, but, say party in­sid­ers, he was con­sid­ered too soft by both Shah and the prime min­is­ter, too will­ing to tol­er­ate ide­o­log­i­cal and dis­ci­plinary in­frac­tions by party lead­ers.

San­thosh, on the other hand, is said to be un­afraid of rep­u­ta­tion and a firm be­liever in party over per­son­al­ity. He was joint general sec­re­tary (or­gan­i­sa­tion) for the BJP’s Kar­nataka unit and tasked by Shah to di­rect the party’s or­gan­i­sa­tion in the South. While the BJP made lit­tle im­pres­sion on most

southern states in the 2019 general elec­tion, it did sweep Kar­nataka, win­ning 25 of the 27 seats it con­tested (the NDA won 26 of 28). San­thosh’s work in Kar­nataka, along­side Goa, Ker­ala and Tamil Nadu, im­pressed the BJP hi­er­ar­chy. He earned, say party work­ers, a rep­u­ta­tion for act­ing with au­thor­ity and in­tegrity.

Part of San­thosh’s rep­u­ta­tion stems from his ru­moured ri­valry with for­mer Kar­nataka chief min­is­ter B.S. Yed­dyu­rappa, the BJP’s face in the state. Yed­dyu­rappa is said to have con­sid­ered San­thosh a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent for the party’s chief min­is­te­rial nom­i­na­tion. While Yed­dyu­rappa has oc­ca­sion­ally been in­dis­creet with the me­dia about his feel­ings for San­thosh, the lat­ter has re­mained scrupu­lously silent. The me­dia en­joys play­ing up their dif­fer­ences—Yed­dyu­rappa has in the past split from the party to fur­ther his own po­lit­i­cal prospects and am­bi­tions, as op­posed to San­thosh’s stead­fast ‘party man’ cre­den­tials; Yed­dyu­rappa’s charisma and com­fort with the me­dia, as op­posed to San­thosh’s re­luc­tance to speak.

Yed­dyu­rappa wel­comed San­thosh’s as­cen­sion in the

party hi­er­ar­chy with a press re­lease full of praise for “our San­thosh”. Some ob­servers sug­gested Yed­dyu­rappa’s hap­pi­ness was at least in part be­cause San­thosh has been re­moved from the scene in Kar­nataka, where the BJP has pushed the H.D. Ku­maraswamy gov­ern­ment to the brink. San­thosh is be­hind such thrust­ing, tech­savvy new lead­ers there such as Te­jasvi Surya, given a Lok Sabha ticket over BJP se­nior leader Ananth Ku­mar’s widow, Te­jaswini Ku­mar, who had Yed­dyu­rappa’s en­dorse­ment.

But some in Kar­nataka still in­sist San­thosh is a vi­able chief min­is­te­rial can­di­date, per­haps a cou­ple of years in the fu­ture. As for San­thosh him­self, he re­fuses to be drawn into any spec­u­la­tion. Or even the most mun­dane ques­tions about his new post. “I have noth­ing to say,” he straight-bat­ted when asked about his feel­ings about his ap­point­ment. “I’ll let my work speak.”

SAN­THOSH IS A FIRM BE­LIEVER IN PARTY OVER PER­SON­AL­ITY. “I WILL LET MY WORK SPEAK,” HE SAYS OF HIS AP­POINT­MENT

ALL CHARGED UP B.L. San­thosh

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