In 2012, when the BJP was in power in Karnataka, a Congress member in the assembly described an RSS functionary from the coastal Karnataka region of Dakshina Kannada, Prabhakar Bhat Kalladka, as the “controller in chief” of the region.
“There is a chief commander for Mangalore who is above the collector, the superintendent of police or anybody — Dr Kalladka. The control of the whole district is with Prabhakar Bhat Kalladka. I am telling you the truth about what is happening in my district,” said the MLA, Vasanth Bangera. “Why is it that the police cannot control groups like the Bajrang Dal, the Sri Rama Sene or the Hindu Jagaran Vedike? All these groups get their strength from Prabhakar Bhat Kalladka. I came to politics 40 years ago and I have never seen a chief controller like this.”
Sometimes equated to Bal Thackeray, the 73-year-old “controller in chief” who has a history of alleged communal offences —mostly of polarising people with provocative speeches and supporting people involved in acts of moral policing — has now emerged at the forefront of a BJP push to win Karnataka back in polls due in about eight months.
RSS national committee member Kalladka and the BJP are particularly keen on regaining Dakshina Kannada — often called a communal laboratory of the Hindutva brigade in Karnataka — after losing 10 of 13 seats in the region in 2013 despite holding sway for over a decade through a strong network of cadre fused with ideology.
Over the past few days Kalladka, who previously enjoyed the image of a behind-the-scenes strongman, has been propelled to the forefront of the news on account of allegations that he has played a key role in fomenting communal trouble in Dakshina Kannada in recent months; the region has seen two murders in the last three weeks in the RSS leader’s home region of Bantwal.
With Bharat Kumedlu, a Bajrang Dal leader associated with the RSS leader, emerging the prime accused in the June 21 murder of an activist of the pro-Muslim Social Democratic Party of India, there has been pressure on the Dakshina Kannada police from the state Congress leadership to bring Kalladka to book as an instigator.
BJP state president B S Yeddyurappa, who has been designated the party’s chief ministerial candidate for the 2018 polls by BJP national president Amit Shah, has warned that the whole of Karnataka will burn if Kalladka is arrested.
Yeddyurappa, who enjoyed a good relationship with the RSS leader when he was chief minister, has renewed the association as part of efforts to revive mutual fortunes, say sources in the Sangh Parivar.
The RSS leader himself emerged from the Sangh ranks around three decades ago after ousting his brother-in-law Ram Bhat, an RSS veteran in the region. He was reportedly at the forefront of rallies and protests following the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. “I chased him on BC Road during the Babri Masjid protests,” says six-time Bantwal Congress MLA Ramanath Rai, an arch rival of Kalladka in Bantwal for over four decades.
One of the questions that has emerged with the recent political prominence accorded to Kalladka is whether the RSS leader himself is looking at taking on Rai in elections in Bantwal this time. Those who have known the RSS leader say it is unlikely.
“He enjoys the role of a remote controller. Without holding political office, he can still call the shots in the region,’’ says a former associate of Kalladka.
“We work for peace and love among the people. When there is no question of money or authority, where is the question of being a supreme commander? In the RSS there is no scope for this. When people come to us we give suggestions, that is all,” says Kalladka, referring to his reputation.
“I would like to remind the police that it is we who will protect their wives and children after they retire,” Kalladka had once said, after police released a Muslim youth and Hindu girl who had been detained by four Hindu Jagaran Vedike men on a bus.
One of the reasons the BJP suffered a major loss in coastal Karnataka in 2013 was a general sense of disgruntlement in the Sangh Parivar cadre with the BJP government and the Sangh leadership after the 2008 victory. “They never bothered about the cadre and core issues of Hindutva like cow protection. They were only interested in acquiring personal wealth. Ignoring cadres, Kalladka promoted those who were close to him in the BJP. It was only the Modi wave that helped the BJP win here in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls,” says a Sangh Parivar worker.
Despite enjoying a strong standing in Dakshina Kannada, Kalladka had seen his fortunes dip in the RSS too in the past. From being the RSS’s dakshin pranth karyavah through most of the BJP’s tenure in 2008-13, he was made the dakshin madhya kshetriya sampark pramukh in what was seen as a reduced function.
One of the theories doing the rounds over Kalladka’s recent resurgence is the fact that there is a rift among RSS and BJP leaders and political equations are forming on the basis of the rift. Yeddyurappa is known to be an open critic of former RSS functionary B L Santhosh who is now the BJP’s general secretary (organisation).
Yeddyurappa, who has the support of Kalladka as well as a senior RSS leader from the Lingayat community, M Jayadev, had in April this year accused Santhosh of engineering a rebellion against him in the BJP with the help of his rivals such as K S Eshwarappa. According to sources, Santhosh and senior RSS leader Dattatreya Hosabale are opposed to Yeddyurappa and in favour of a faction lead by Union minister Ananth Kumar.
“Yeddyurappa and Kalladka are supporting each other to revive their own fortunes and those of the BJP,” says a Sangh Parivar worker.