Deeply rooted in the RSS, Kateel was the party’s choice as it was felt that he will work as a link between the Hindu nationalist organisation and the BJP as well as Yediyurappa and general secretary (organisation) BL Santhosh, two leaders known to have had a constant power struggle.
Kateel’s seat Dakshin Kannada was created in 2008 after the delimitation of parliamentary constituencies. He was then serving as the BJP’s district general secretary before he was chosen to represent the party in this newly carved out constituency for its first Lok Sabha elections.
In 2009, he defeated senior Congress leader Janardhan Poojary by 40,420 votes to become Dakshin Kannada’s first Lok Sabha MP. Consecutively, he won the seat in 2014 by a margin of 1,43,709 votes and then again in 2019 with a whopping margin of 2,74,621 votes by defeating Mithun M Rai of the Congress.
The Dakshina Kannada constituency is popularly called the “Hindutva laboratory of the south” comprising eight assembly constituencies – Mangaluru City North (previously called Surathkal), Mangaluru South (previously known as Mangalore), Mangalore (previously Ullal), Belthangady, Moodabidri, Puttur, Bantwal, and Sullia – with the highest number of RSS shakhas in the state.
Controversial but ‘low profile’
An RSS pracharak, Kateel has always maintained a low profile except for the times when he makes controversial statements that turn into headlines for media outlets. He belongs to the affluent Bunt community of Dakshin Kannada and ran a civil-contract business in the region.
As the BJP state president, he was tasked with building a base from the grassroots so as to ensure that the party remains in power in Karnataka, which has been its gateway to the south. He was also given the task of being the diplomatic balance between state and central party leaders.
‘Tipu vs Savarkar’
Critics called his appointment a controversial choice as his statements have often put the party in a spot. This time, too, has been no different with Kateel saying the 2023 assembly elections was not a fight between BJP and Congress but a battle of “Tipu versus Savarkar”. The statement he made while addressing a public event in Shivamogga sparked a new row. He made the comments while challenging opposition leader Siddaramaiah to a public debate on which personality was important for the state of Karnataka.
“They celebrate Tipu Jayanti. That is not required in our state. I throw a challenge to Siddaramaiah, that the next election is between Tipu and Savarkar. Let us discuss, come forward, let’s debate if this country requires a patriot like Savarkar or Tipu,” he had said.
‘Prioritise Love Jihad’
This statement came just a month after Kateel had spoken of how BJP party workers and the people of Karnataka should not waste time over infrastructure like “roads, gutters, drains, and other small issues”. He said they should rather prioritise ‘love jihad’ and “save innocent Hindu girls”. The MP made this statement on January 4 while speaking at the launch of ‘Booth Vijay Abhiyaan’ in Mangaluru city.
Referring to the Centre’s move to ban the Popular Front of India, he said the now-outlawed organisation was responsible for several murders in Karnataka as well as across India.
“I told them not to talk about roads, gutters, drains, and other small issues… If the real issue affecting your children’s lives – love jihad – has to be stopped, we need the BJP,” he is heard saying in a video while addressing party workers.
‘Cong responsible for increase in coronavirus’
In August 2021, during the Covid pandemic, Kateel accused the Congress of being responsible for the increase in coronavirus cases in the country. He said the party was responsible for the rising deaths as they made false propaganda that the vaccines were ineffective.
“The Congress made false statements that the vaccine developed in the country apart from being ineffective also reduces ‘manliness’. This created confusion in the minds of the general public and they began to have second thoughts. It resulted in the further spread of the infection and caused more deaths,” Kateel told mediapersons when he was on his way to offer condolences to the family of BJP’s divisional organising secretary Dattatreya Thoogavnkar, who died of Covid.
‘Rahul Gandhi drug peddler and addict’
A couple of months later in August, the parliamentarian stoked a controversy by claiming that the Congress party’s national president, vice-president and Karnataka Congress president were “all out on bail”. He went on to call the party’s senior leader Rahul Gandhi a “drug addict” and “drug peddler”.
“Sonia Gandhi says she is the AICC president but your leaders say they want Rahul Gandhi as your president. Who is Rahul Gandhi? He is a drug peddler and a drug addict. I am not saying this, it was reported once,” Kateel said while speaking at a party event in Huballi.
‘Siddaramiah a terrorist’
The statement against Rahul Gandhi from the state BJP president came barely weeks after he called former Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah a “terrorist” during a meeting of office-bearers in Murudeshwara. His remarks against Siddaramaiah came when he criticised the RSS and equated it to the Taliban.
Kateel went on to say the Congress, led by Siddaramaiah, was a party that supported terrorists, anti-nationals, and drug and sand mafia. “Now, it can be called a party of terrorists,” Kateel had said.
Faced wrath of workers after BJYM leader’s murder
In July 2022, when BJP Yuva Morcha leader Praveen Nettar was murdered, protesting crowds including right-wing supporters attacked Kateel’s car during his visit. They were upset with the state BJP president for not taking a more “proactive” action against Muslim fundamentalists and those allegedly responsible for the deaths of other RSS workers in the region. The large crowds rocked the car and tried toppling it. But Kateel was not inside the car at the time.
Booked for hate speech
In 2017, Kateel was booked for an alleged hate speech. “Dakshina Kannada would be set on fire if the murderers of BJP’s Karthik Raj are not nabbed within 10 days,” Kateel had allegedly said during a speech. Raj, the son of a former Mangaluru taluk panchayat president, was brutally attacked by unknown assailants in October 2016.
Reprimanded by Amit Shah
It is not that the BJP has let Kateel have his say. They have pulled up the leader several times for his remarks. In May 2019, union home minister Amit Shah openly reprimanded Kateel along with another state MP Ananth Kumar Hegde and Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur. Thakur, who is an accused in the 2006 Malegaon blasts, whipped up a controversy when she called Nathuram Godse a “true deshbhakt” or patriot. Both Kateel and Hegde expressed their solidarity with Thakur’s controversial statement. Kateel tweeted: “Godse killed just one. Ajmal Kasab killed 72. Rajiv Gandhi killed 17,000. It’s up to you to decide who is most cruel among them.”
Social media was abuzz and the BJP faced severe backlash. Kateel deleted the tweet and apologised. Shah, then also the BJP’s national president, took to social media and distanced the party’s stand from the trio.
“The statements made by Pragya Thakur, Ananth Hegde, and Nalin Kateel in the last two days are their own statements. The BJP has no relation with their statements. However, they have retracted their statements and also apologised…” he had said.
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