Nalin Kumar Kateel, the BJP’s new Karnataka president who took charge formally on Tuesday, will attempt to carry out a course correction for the BJP and return it to a cadre — and Hindutva—based system rather than the caste and personality-based system that was dominant in the nearly four decades with B S Yediyurappa at the helm.
Kateel, 52, an unknown political entity outside of his home district of Mangalore — where the cadre — and Hindutva-based BJP bloomed in the last three decades — has outlined recreating the booth-level mobilisation from coastal Karnataka in regions across the state, where the party has little or no grassroot infrastructure, as one of the key tasks entrusted to him by the BJP high command.
The appointment of Kateel —a pick of BJP central leaders like party president Amit Shah and organisation secretary B L Santhosh — as party president, and the appointment of three deputy chief ministers to assist Chief Minister Yediyurappa, is an attempt by the BJP to move away from the Yediyurappa era to new leadership options, BJP sources said.
With Kateel’s appointment, the central BJP will attempt to break Yediyurappa’s stranglehold over the Karnataka unit and this could in the short term lead to tension in the party despite Kateel’s call for unity on Tuesday.
“Recreating booth-wise Shakti kendras” —which has helped the BJP spread its Hindutva base in coastal districts of Karnataka and regions like Chikamagaluru and Kodagu —in places where the BJP is rising, such as southern Karnataka districts of Mysuru, Hassan, Chamarajnagar, Mandya, has been outlined by Kateel as a top priority.
One reason Kateel was picked as BJP chief in Karnataka was his familiarity with implementation of grassroot and booth-level political strategies of the BJP and RSS in Mangalore region since he became an RSS worker at the age of 18.
“The BJP is the only party where an ordinary worker from a village can become the president. I am an example of this,” Kateel said while taking charge in Bengaluru. “I will work to live up to the expectations of everyone who has given me this responsibility. I will take full guidance from CM Yediyurappa and his team and move forward.”
With the authority of the new BJP president flowing from the party high command, there will be instances where the brass may have to intervene as Yediyurappa is not likely to give up his control of the party easily, BJP sources said.
“Kateel has become the party president at a time when Prime Minister Modi has been elected for a second tenure. In future days he will hopefully strengthen the party and give the BJP and PM Modi greater strength,” Yediyurappa said on Tuesday.
As state BJP chief, Yediyurappa banked on social activism, clout in his Lingayat community, and caste alliances for electoral success and did not rely much on cadre and Hindutva-based grassroot strategies of the new BJP.
“Yediyurappa is a mass leader. He built the BJP from the bottom. He organised our cadre-based party into a pro-farmer party and pro-worker party with appeal to all sections of society,” C H Ashwathanarayan, one of the three deputy CMs, said.
“Kateel is an ordinary party worker who has worked very hard. He has a vision for society. At a young age he has attracted attention. He is an expert at organising the party and is a great orator,’’ Ashwathnarayan said.
Some BJP leaders pointed to Kateel’s inexperience in organisational roles beyond Dakshina Kannada. “My only advice to him is to leave Mangalore and tour all over Karnataka. He must know the names of at least 10 party workers in each district,” BJP MLA and former MP from Bijapur Basangouda Patil Yatnal said.