While the BJP believes that Muthalik will help the party secure more votes in northern Karnakata, many of the party’s supporters in urban areas are uncomfortable with his induction, says Vicky Nanjappa
Pramod Muthalik, the controversial chief of right-wing outfit Sri Ram Sena, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party on Sunday.
Muthalik was welcomed into the party fold in the presence of Karnataka unit president Prahalad Joshi, former chief minister Jagadish Shettar and former deputy chief minister K S Eshwarappa at a formal ceremony.
Muthalik later told reporters that he joined the BJP with the objective of ensuring that Narendra Modi becomes the country's next prime minister.
After facing a severe backlash on the social media and open displeasure by its own senior leaders, the BJP later decided to keep the entry of Muthalik on hold.
Muthalik’s entry was greeted with a flurry of tweets and one of them said, “Muthalik in BJP would mean return of UPA-3”.
Muthalik's entry had not gone down too well with many supporters of the party.
They were wondering why a man -- who had greatly embarrassed the BJP when the party was in power in Karnataka -- is being welcomed back with so much fanfare.
The state BJP unit has reportedly told Muthalik clearly that he will not be allowed to pursue his hard-line Hindutva any more. The Ram Sena founder has also been told that he will not be given a ticket to contest the Lok Sabha polls.
Muthalik has a considerable support base in the Hubli-Dharwad belt, say BJP insiders, adding that he could help the BJP secure more votes in the region.
Incidentally, Muthalik was associated with the BJP for several years before he broke away and formed his own outfit to promote his hard-line vision of Hindutva.
He had made his mark in the saffron party almost 15 years ago by getting involved in the dispute over a piece of land, between two communities, in Chickmagalur.
While a dargah of one Baba Budangiri had been built on the land, many locals claimed that the religious structure had been forcibly contracted on a piece of land that originally belonged to members of the Hindu community and was called Datta Peeta.
Muthalik and the BJP had fought for the Datta Peeta issue and helped polarise Hindu votes in the region and several parts of the state.
But over the years, Muthalik started taking a much more aggressive stance on several Hindutva issues, making the BJP increasingly uncomfortable.
The leader and his party soon parted ways and Muthalik went on to launch the Shri Ram Sena.
Members of the Ram Sena achieved national notoriety across India when they attacked women patrons at a pub in Mangalore, even thrashing some of them, and the shameful incident was captured on camera.
The incident, and Muthalik’s flimsy link to the then ruling BJP, had cost the saffron party heavily as it had lost in all the three assembly seats in Mangalore in the subsequent elections.
Unfortunately, physically attacking ‘immoral’ women was not the worst of Muthalik and his men.
The Ram Sena chief was allegedly caught red-handed during a sting operation when he sought money to conduct protests over a certain issue.
Then, while talking about the Malegaon serial blasts -- in which 37 people were killed – the tactless right-wing leader had remarked, “This was just a trailer, the real movie will start soon”.
He was questioned by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad, which suspected that he had knowledge of other terror strikes being planned by right-wing terrorists, but he was let go after investigators realised that his controversial ramblings were only a ploy to attract attention.
The BJP and the media soon started to ignore Muthalik and his many antics.
The Ram Sena leader then latched on to the Narendra Modi bandwagon by declaring his support for the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.
In fact, last year, the BJP had warned him against trying to gain political mileage by using Modi’s name.
A month ago, Muthalik reportedly approached the BJP’s state unit chief in Karnataka and expressed his desire to come back to the party fold.
Joshi, after consulting the BJP high command in Delhi, agreed to Muthalik’s request, but warned him that he would not be allowed to propagate his hardcore version of Hinduism.
While BJP leaders believe that Muthalik will help them secure more votes in northern Karnakata, many of the party’s supporters in urban areas are uncomfortable with such a radical leader being inducted into the party.
He is still perceived by many as the man who encouraged a group of goons to beat up women in public for ‘committing the immoral act’ of visiting a pub.
Muthalik’s entry into the BJP would seriously worry the young and urban voters who had been tilting towards Modi and the saffron party.
Image: Pramod Muthalik