The Hindu Profiles | Dholavira, Basavaraj Bommai, and China’s New Oriental group

Basavaraj Bommai | An ‘outsider’ but not quite

Illustration: J.A. Prem Kumar  

The biggest surprise in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s choice for the 30th Chief Minister of Karnataka was the absence of any surprise. Following the removal of his predecessor B.S. Yediyurappa, after protracted subtle and not-so-subtle manoeuvres, the saffron party played it safe in picking Basavaraj Bommai, or so it appears for now.

He is a Lingayat like the BJP’s old war horse Mr. Yediyurappa and has made his loyalty to the 78-year-old evident as he took over. So the Lingayat seers, who had landed on the streets of Bengaluru and warned the BJP that with Mr. Yediyurappa their trusted voter base too would walk away, seem mollified, as does the community’s strongman who has cultivated this vote bank.


Less than two years to the next Assembly polls, the party belied the fear or anticipation (depending on one’s ideological leanings) in not choosing a man for the post in the template of Yogi Adityanath. Mr. Bommai, son of former Chief Minister and Janata Party leader S.R. Bommai, was groomed in the Janata Parivar politics and joined the BJP as late as 2008 and has since won thrice from Shiggaon Assembly constituency in north Karnataka. While the man, with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, has earned the reputation of an able administrator — handling key portfolios such as water resources, home and law and parliamentary affairs — Mr. Bommai is not known for hardline Hindutwa stances. Even his age, 61, seems to be a safe middle ground.

The circumstances of Mr. Bommai’s choice, amidst several factional pulls within the party, beg a series of questions on what the BJP’s plans and expectations are and how the man in the hot seat will lend himself to them. Will he, and if so how soon, emerge out of the shadows of Mr. Yediyurappa and how will the veteran respond to it? Will he learn the language of hardline Hindutva and how will people of Karnataka respond to it? Or is he, for the party, an interim arrangement until the State is more adequately ripe for a head-on Hindutva agenda?

While there are too many imponderables at this moment, there are signs of Mr. Bommai being a political player in his own right, though not quite in the style of his predecessor, who is credited with building the party in Karnataka through “risky operations” such as engineering defections with all the attendant costs.


Image makeover

For one, while calling Mr. Yediyurappa his mentor, Mr. Bommai has bristled at the suggestion that he will be a “rubber stamp CM” controlled by not just Mr. Yediyurappa but also his son B.Y. Vijayendra. Soon after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, he went so far as to say that the mandate given to him was an image makeover by delivering “a clean and efficient administration.”

Mr. Bommai is also shrewd enough to know that Mr. Yediyurappa, while being a master at playing the caste card, is not quite the man who could ensure the ouster of Sadanada Gowda from the CM’s seat (who occupied it under comparable circumstances) when he began to assert himself back in 2012. It cannot be forgotten that Mr. Bommai was not so loyal as to follow Mr. Yediyurappa when he briefly broke away from the BJP in 2012, even though he never burnt bridges with him. Many have also pointed out that Mr. Bommai’s views on issues like the CAA and the NRC or anti-cow slaughter law have never been out of line with the party’s agenda.

Yediyurappa hands over the mantle to Basavaraj Bommai

If symbolism is anything to go by, Mr. Bommai, unlike his predecessor who took oath four times wearing a green shawl that represents the farmers, wore a saffron silk shawl to the swearing in ceremony and entered the State Secretariat bowing at the door in the style of Mr. Modi. By all accounts, Mr. Bommai is a man of measured steps and words and has bided his time to become the Chief Minister of Karnataka in a party where he is still seen with suspicion as an “outsider” without Sangh roots. Is that good enough to keep him in the saddle in the long run, possibly beyond 2023, is the big question.

In the short term, the Cabinet expansion exercise he has to undertake soon — when defectors from other parties, hardliners and pro- and anti-Yediyurappa camp followers are sure to pull in different directions — will be a tough test. Which way Mr. Bommai leans in doing so will say something of what the future holds for him.

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Printable version | Sep 29, 2021 12:18:22 AM |

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