Pramod Muthalik, or Pramodji, as he is affectionately known, has been an RSS pracharak in the past, and has also worked with the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. He is known in his circles to be soft spoken and gentle in demeanour, but his political ambitions became evident when he left the RSS to join the Shiv Sena.
His basic argument has been that the RSS and other organisations are ‘too soft’ to serve the cause of Hindus, and that the country needs better alternatives. As a pracharak, Muthalik has built himself a popularity base in North Karnataka, especially among those who he believes want a ‘Hindu-First Party’. The BJP, ironically campaigning with an ‘India First’ slogan in the current elections, is seen as not being assertive enough in its Hindu agenda.
Muthalik left the Shiv Sena to form his own unit, the Shri Ram Sene (SRS), after an apparent rift over the Belgaum border dispute. Though the unit is yet to contest elections from anywhere in Karnataka, there is much speculation about it joining the election fray. Even in the recent assembly elections, he attempted to obtain a BJP ticket, which was turned down due to his anti-BJP rhetoric. He had warned the BJP at various religious congregations that he would contest independently, which made many inside the BJP think of him cutting into their Lok Sabha vote base. A local BJP functionary in Mangalore, on condition of anonymity, spoke to the author and said, “He has been very inconsistent with his actions towards the BJP. On the one hand he accuses us and on the other he wants a ticket. This is not how you present yourself.”
Many within the BJP state unit believe that his popularity could dampen the BJP’s prospects in the state, especially in the North Karnataka constituencies of Hubli, Dharwad, Belgaum, Chikkodi, Bijapur and Bagalkot. Many BJP insiders recognise that the SRS independently without the BJP would be able to garner only about 50 to 10,000 votes, which may not be sufficient to win seats. For that, one needs to be close to a lakh’s margin. However, the ability of the SRS to swing this small but significant share of votes seems to have prompted the state BJP to induct him into the party. The state unit of the party does not wish to repeat their performance in the recently held assembly polls, where it lost to the Congress.
Another section within the BJP however believes that his claim on seats such as Dharwad, from where the current BJP MP and State Unit Party President Pralhad Joshi hails, would make him a liability and cause unnecessary friction within the party. It may be noted that the Central BJP unit, which ultimately asked the state unit not to admit him, may have been reminded of the Pilibhit elections of 2009, where even though the particular seat was won by the candidate, the opposing parties milked the issue elsewhere for immense political gain. Such are the dynamics of electoral politics in this country. Furthermore, the fact that senior party functionaries like the BJP’s aam aadmi Manohar Parrikar opposed his induction – claiming his unit to be against the BJP’s ethos – certainly worked against Muthalik.
For now, Pramod Muthalik claims that he will campaign for the BJP from outside as he is “with Namo for a Congress-free India”. What he and the SRS will do now is anybody’s guess.
Vishesh Bansal tweets at @Wishaysh.