Basavaraj Bommai makes himself comfortable on an ordinary chair, refusing to sit on a plush sofa. “This is most comfortable for my back,” he says. He chats without hesitation.
The DH on Saturday team -- two reporters and a photographer -- has trailed him since morning, through multiple engagements, and we ask how he stays unruffled. “I don’t let administration or politics enter my system,” he says.
Bommai starts his day around 6.30 am with a few stretches and a 10-minute session of pranayama. A sugarless cup of tea and reading seven newspapers give him a feel of the day’s buzz.
He believes good music sets the tone for the day. “I love listening to Hindustani music — my favourites are Gangubai Hangal, Bhimsen Joshi and Mallikarjun Mansur. When I am on district visits, old Rajkumar songs and old Bollywood numbers keep me company,” he says.
He reads on a variety of subjects, but economics and philosophy are favourites. “In philosophy there is paapa-punya and in economics there is profit and loss. I look at these paradoxically, I see paapa-punya in economics and profit-loss in philosophy,” he says.
He believes a people’s way of life shapes a country’s economy. “In India, we have a saving culture, while the West has people spending. That leads to different economic policies, activities and results,” he says.
Bommai is a mechanical engineer. “As a college student, I loved hanging out with friends, watching films, bunking one or two classes on Saturdays,” he says. He was good at organising college events, but had not imagined he would enter politics.
“After coming out of Tata Motors, when I started my own enterprise, economics came in handy. Philosophy was part of my life. I grew up on a diet of Vivekananda and Basavanna,” he says.
Candid moments with CM Bommai: 3 events and a wedding
Bommai lives at No 4, R T Nagar. He is 61, and has spent 38 years of his life there. When he became chief minister, he turned down the more luxurious official residence he was entitled to, and preferred to stay back at the house his father S R Bommai built. His brother Mallikarjun Bommai aka Mahesh Bommai, lives next door. Other neighbours down the sylvan street, lined with bungalows, are D B Chandre Gowda, former speaker of the Assembly, and Veerappa Moily, former chief minister.
We take an auto and reach his house by 8.30 am, when his day is just beginning. The idea is to trail him all day, and see what a typical day in the life of the chief minister is like.
The front yard is choc-a-bloc with people. Many have travelled from remote places to meet him and find solutions to their problems, some vexed, and some so simple that you wonder why they couldn’t be addressed by someone lower down in the hierarchy.
Among those waiting are poor students, physically disabled job seekers, and some old friends seeking to reconnect. The sky is clear. The visitors are well informed: they know the CM never leaves for office without meeting people at his door.
Suddenly the crowd is agog and three sniffer dogs check Bommai’s car, a Toyota Innova Crysta. He steps out of the house and walks briskly towards the visitors, speaking reassuring words to each of them. His assistant collects their memorandums. A bulletproof vehicle is part of his convoy, but he prefers a simpler SUV.
Bommai gets into his vehicle and we follow him in his convoy, which has seven vehicles. Accompanying him are his assistants, a superintendent of police, and some bureaucrats. For the first time in our lives, we experience the luxury of traffic-free roads. Policemen line the route, and have stopped traffic to make way for the chief minister. Suddenly, Bengaluru roads appear wide, big and welcoming.
Bommai’s official itinerary begins with a two-day tech conference he is inaugurating at the Taj West End. Delegates have come in from across India. They listen to him pitch for more investments. His speech is peppered with humour. He says he has known Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, executive chairperson of biotech company Biocon, for 40 years, from the time she was a young entrepreneur. “Doesn’t mean she is no longer young,” he is quick to add.
The convoy then travels 6 km to Ramanashree Hotel on Raja Ram Mohan Roy Road. His old-time friend S Shadakshari has written a book on ‘personality development’, and he is launching it. Titled ‘Kshana Hottu Ani Muttu’ (Little Pearls of Wisdom), it is a 100-page compilation of Shadakshari’s articles published in a Kannada newspaper.
“Reading philosophy shaped my student days,” Bommai says, to a crowd of about 400. He cites Vivekananda as his inspiration. Bommai switched from the JD(U) to the BJP in 2008, and till that point, had followed in his father S R Bommai’s ideological footsteps. S R Bommai, who also served as chief minister, was inspired by M N Roy, who tried to marry communism with liberalism.
He grabs a bite at the hotel — his meal is two chapatis with sabji. He is diabetic, but allows himself some rabdi and jalebi. He drinks warm water. After lunch, he walks up to where we are sitting. He spends close to an hour chatting with us.
Next on his itinerary is the inauguration of a new block at Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research on Bannerghatta Road. Built with a donation from Infosys Foundation, it houses 350 beds. The trip from M G Road to Jayadeva Hospital takes just 10 minutes. On a regular-traffic day, it takes at least 45 minutes.
Sudha Murthy, chairperson of the Infosys Foundation, addresses the gathering virtually. She says she is thrilled Bommai is chief minister. “Not only are we from the same college but also from the same town of Shiggaon,” she says. They were also colleagues at Tata Motors in Pune, and he calls her ‘akka.’
After spending an hour at the hospital, Bommai is back at Krishna for meetings. He attends to grievances he has heard during his morning ‘janata darshan.’ He tells his assistant Devaraj to organise all the petitions he has received in the morning. He spends two hours on them.
The evening schedule kicks in. It is 7 pm and he has a wedding to attend. P C Mohan, Bengaluru Central MP, is hosting a reception for his daughter and son-in-law at Palace Grounds. A sea of people surge towards him, many reaching out to shake hands with him and take selfies.
Bommai goes up to the stage, greets the couple, and is back within 10 minutes. We are caught in the surging crowds, and are grateful to exit from all the noise and jostling. The chief minister has concluded his day, and returns home. We take leave from the sprawling wedding pandal.
Love of cycling
One thing Bommai misses from his younger days is cycling. “I owned a Raleigh. My father was a lawyer and as a child, whenever his clerk came on a cycle, I would take a ride,” he recalls.
Earlier, he used to ride from Crescent Road, where he used to live, to Kanakapura Road every day. “Given a chance I want to ride even now, but Bengaluru traffic is not kind to bikers and cyclists,” he says.
Clothes and gizmos
Bommai loves khadi kurtas, some bought from Rajasthan. “I have no craze for clothes. In fact, my watch Shivaki costs only Rs 150. I have been gifted expensive watches but I given them away.” He still treasures his first watch, an HMT.
‘He stops at small tea stalls’ Basavaraj Bommai loves to stop for tea at small wayside stalls, and even tries out snacks and nibbles available there, says A H Nagesh, his driver for the last four months.
“He doesn’t insist on going to a posh hotel,” Nagesh says. The item Bommai orders most frequently at the restaurants is uppittu.
People pull Devaraj’s leg, saying he is the closest to the chief minister. “Sir has a collection of old Hindi and Kannada songs. He is a fan of Dr Rajkumar, Ambarish and Vishnuvardhan and listens to their songs,” says Nagesh. Bommai also tries to catch up on his reading on his trips.
No speech writer
Bommai’s speeches are extempore, and he does not depend on a speech writer. Before every event, he scans the invitation and decides what the focus of his speech should be. “He always draws from books and his life experiences,” says a friend.