The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party declared its candidates for 23 Karnataka assembly constituencies in its second list on Wednesday night. Six MLAs in the current assembly were denied tickets. But one seat – Arsikere – currently held by the Janata Dal (Secular) has caught everybody’s attention. The name of BJP’s NR Santosh was not on the list.
A highly controversial young man, Santosh was a close confidante of BJP heavyweight in the state, BS Yediyurappa. Santosh had played a major role in toppling the JD(S)-Congress coalition government in 2019 and making his boss the chief minister again. Soon after that, Yediyurappa’s ambitious son BY Vijayendra and Santosh had a major falling-out, and the latter was shown the door.
Santosh’s followers in Arsikere blamed Yediyurappa for the denial of the ticket to him. A teary-eyed Santosh attacked the “vested interests” for his plight and his supporters burnt party flags in protest.
“Give me some time, I will contest. I will decide in a day or two,” Santosh told them.
Sources say a bitter Santosh is likely to contest on a JD(S) ticket as the incumbent MLA from the party KM Shivalinge Gowda has defected to the Congress.
NR Santosh is still a mysterious character who came from nowhere and became BSY’s close confidante overnight in 2013-14. During the 2018 assembly elections, he was the go-to man in the state BJP and wielded enormous clout. He was instrumental in “hijacking” the Congress and JD(S) MLAs in 2019 and taking them to Mumbai which finally led to the collapse of the 14-month-old HD Kumaraswamy government in Karnataka. He had worked closely with minister Ramesh Jharkiholi in that coup. Everyone in the party was expecting Santosh to be rewarded handsomely by BSY for his role.
Surprisingly, Vijayendra took complete charge of the chief minister’s office (CMO) and made Santosh a persona non grata in the corridors of power.
Under pressure, BSY appointed Santosh as an advisor. But he was denied access and perks associated with power. When he was asked to go, a dejected Santosh allegedly tried to end his life by consuming sleeping pills and a shaken BSY decided against sacking him.
After these incidents, Santosh shifted his base to Arsikere in Hassan district and started building a base for himself there. Two years ago, he declared his candidature from Arsikere and started spending a lot of money to woo voters and followers. He even started dropping the names of top RSS leaders as his godfathers and used to attack Vijayendra in private for his unceremonious exit from BSY’s home.
His activities alarmed Vijayendra, and he convinced his father that Santosh should be taught a lesson. After Basavaraj Bommai became the chief minister, Vijayendra’s stock nosedived, and the people thought Santosh would certainly secure the BJP nomination from Arsikere.
In the last two years, Santosh has reportedly spent crores of rupees on various activities in Arsikere and was all set to contest on the lotus symbol. To his utter shock and bad luck, the BJP high command brought BSY back from the cold storage of politics, and made him the party’s campaign head, six months ago. Realising that the Karnataka elections are all about caste and subcastes, the top brass allowed BSY to decide most of the candidates, pouring cold water over Santosh’s lifetime ambition.
Santosh had hit the headlines during Siddaramaiah’s regime after a “sting” operation against BSY’s rival in the party KS Eshwarappa’s personal assistant Vinay. He evaded the police by allegedly hiding at BSY’s New Delhi residence and the case against him was given a quiet burial after Yediyurappa came to power.
Santosh claims that he is a grandson of BSY’s niece and that makes Yediyurappa his granduncle. He was also close to BSY confidante and union minister of state for agriculture Shobha Karandlaje during those days.
Before the mysterious entry of Santosh, BSY had a man Friday, Kapu Siddalingaswamy, who had enjoyed a lot of powers. He even took on Siddaramaiah in the Varuna assembly constituency in 2013 on BSY’s short-lived Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) ticket and came second.
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