SHAH’S SILENT ENFORCER
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