Anantkumar Hegde, 50, BJP MP
Hegde, a Brahmin, has dominated Hindutva-driven politics in Uttara Kannada for over two decades now. Picked to be the Union MoS in 2017 – to surprise in some quarters – the five-time MP is seen as having a good chance of getting elected again.
Hegde burst into the political scene in coastal Karnataka in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition. He is seen as a key figure in polarising Uttara Kannada district on communal lines with inflammatory speeches and aggression, some of which attracted criminal cases. He was accused of rioting, unlawful assembly and promoting enmity in 1993 when he was allegedly part of a mob involved in riots in Bhatkal.
Then 25, Hegde caught the Sangh Parivar’s attention on the Independence Day in 1994 in Hubli when he dodged prohibitory orders and slipped into the disputed Idgah Maidan prayer ground with two others to raise the national flag. The subsequent riots and police firing in the incident led to eight deaths.
He got the Lok Sabha ticket from BJP in 1996. At 27, he turned out to be giant-killer, defeating senior Congress leader Margaret Alva. He went on to win the seat in four subsequent elections.
Hegde was booked by the police in Sirsi, his hometown, in connection with inflammatory statements he made about Islam in 2016. He also called Islam a ticking bomb’’.
In 2017, Hegde was accused by Sirsi police of beating up doctors at a private hospital for allegedly not treating his mother after she was brought with a broken leg.
A black belt in Tae Kwon Do, Hegde is a businessman. He studied up to class XII before doing odd jobs as a cleaner at a petrol bunk and a daily wager in Mysuru.
After Congress president Rahul Gandhi questioned the government on Balakot airstrikes, Hegde had said at a public event: “They want proof of what the soldiers have done. Can this son of a Muslim give proof to prove that he is a Brahmin, as he claims? His father is a Muslim and mother a Christian. How did he become a Brahmin? Can he provide proof?”
He also said: “This is not a joke, and I will say this on record: when Rajiv Gandhi died, his body was in pieces. They needed to tally his DNA with family members. When Rahul Gandhi’s DNA was sought, Sonia Gandhi said, ‘no, don’t take Rahul Gandhi’s DNA’. She said take Priyanka’s DNA and test it. This is the truth…”
Nalin Kumar Kateel, 52, BJP MP
Kateel, a Vokkaliga Bunt, has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in Hindutva-driven Dakshina Kannada politics despite lacking a mass base. He looks set for a third consecutive term in Lok Sabha after drawing immense support during the campaign phase last month.
Although Kateel does not have a reputation, unlike Hegde, for making inflammatory speeches, he has been actively involved in agitations in recent years to further the Hindutva cause in Daskhina Kannada. He was at the forefront of a 2017 agitation, apparently following orders from BJP president Amit Shah, over the killing of several Hindu activists in the region, allegedly by Muslim groups.
The BJP won 16 of 19 seats in the region in 2018 state polls.
Then a small-time businessman and RSS worker, Kateel initially emerged on the BJP firmament in Dakshina Kannada as a favourite of local RSS leader Prabhakar Bhat Kalladka. He was the party’s surprise candidate for 2009 Lok Sabha polls against Congress veteran Janardhan Poojary — he won by a narrow margin. He repeated the feat in 2014 — this time by a huge margin — on the back of a Modi wave, despite his dwindling personal status in the constituency.
Over the last five years, Kateel is seen as having 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 confidence of people such as his one-time mentor Kalladka. Many BJP candidates chosen for the state polls last year, including several first-timers, were Kateel’s picks, say leaders of different Sangh groups.
He is reported to have been in charge of organising BJP and Sangh Parivar agitations over the Sabarimala issue in north Kerala last year along with BJP general secretary and former RSS functionary B L Santhosh.
In 2015, Kateel said Dakshina Kannada district would burn if the police failed to find the killers of Karthik Raj, 25, son of a BJP worker. The BJP alleged that he was killed by Muslim fundamentalists. Police investigation found he was murdered by people hired by his own sister in a family property dispute.
Hegde and Kateel are among candidates likely to be in contention for leadership of Karnataka BJP when former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, 76, is asked to step aside.
Anil Saumitra, 44, BJP media relations convener, Madhya pradesh
Defending his controversial post, Saumitra, formerly in charge of RSS’s communication wing Vishwa Samvad Kendra, on Friday said it was his personal opinion and was not given in his official capacity. He said none of his social media accounts identify him as a BJP member. He claimed he had posted comments on these lines in the past as well. Saumitra said Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah lusted for power and wanted to become the Prime Minister of independent India. So Pakistan was carved out with the blessings of Gandhi, and both leaders became the head of each nation.
“In that sense he (Gandhi) is the father of Pakistan because the creation of the neighbouring state had his consent,’’ Saumitra said, adding that creating Pakistan was a British conspiracy. He also called the title “father of the nation’’ a western concept and Gandhi was actually “putra (son)”, and not father, of India in keeping with the sanatan dharma terminology. “Even sages and Lord Ram called himself Bharat Mata’s putra, not father,’’ he said.
He also said, “Worthy sons are those who followed Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals, such as swadeshi and cleanliness, and the unworthy those who killed his thought and exploited his surname to come to power.’’
A doctorate in Sociology – on reach, exposure and effects of mass media in MP – Saumitra became the state unit media convener a few years ago and also served as the BJP spokesperson without being given the responsibility officially.
He was the youngest editor of party mouthpiece ‘Charaiveti’, and was removed in 2013 following allegations of financial irregularities. He had written to senior RSS and national BJP functionaries to register his protest over this unceremonious removal.