Nalin Kumar Kateel (52), BJP MP from the coastal Karnataka district of Dakshina Kannada who was pulled up by the BJP in May for briefly endorsing Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse, was on Tuesday appointed the new party president in Karnataka, replacing veteran B S Yediyurappa.
“BJP national president Hon’ble Shri Amit Shah has appointed Shri Nalin Kumar Kateel MP as state president of Karnataka BJP,” BJP national general secretary Arun Singh said in a letter shared by the party in Karnataka.
The appointment of Kateel, who is considered close to Shah and BJP national organisational secretary B L Santhosh, comes even as Karnataka Chief Minister Yediyurappa was allowed to have his way with a Cabinet expansion on Tuesday.
Kateel, a three-time MP who was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 2009 by defeating Congress veteran Janardhan Poojary by a narrow margin, is expected to toe the party leadership’s line, unlike his predecessor.
The change of leadership in Karnataka BJP was pending since February when Yediyurappa turned 76 — the BJP has a policy of 75 years as cut-off age for its executive leaders. Yediyurappa is believed to have been given a concession to be the Karnataka CM on account of the mass support he brings to the BJP from dominant Lingayat community.
Kateel, a member of the Bunt community from coastal Karnataka, has his roots in the RSS in Mangalore but does not enjoy a mass support base like Yediyurappa.
A small-time businessman and RSS worker, Kateel has over the last five years built strong links in the top echelons of the BJP and RSS, enabling him to emerge as a dominant political figure in the region despite losing the confidence of people like his one-time mentor and local RSS strongman Prabhakar Kalladka. Many BJP candidates chosen for state polls last year — including several first timers — were picks of Kateel, according to leaders of Sangh groups in Mangalore.
Kateel is reported to have been in charge of organising BJP and Sangh agitations over the Sabarimala issue in north Kerala in 2018 along with the recently-appointed BJP organisational secretary and former RSS functionary B L Santhosh.
He was at the forefront of an agitation in 2017 over the alleged killing of several Hindu activists in coastal Karnataka.