Bommai’s cabinet, made in Delhi

Bommai’s cabinet, made in Delhi

Caste, compulsions trumped regional representation

Karnatka CM Basavaraj Bommai's new cabinet. Credit: PTI Photo

The BJP, which for years accused the Congress of furthering the ‘high command’ culture, has itself fallen into the same trap, going by the way the formation of the new government in Karnataka was executed. While the MLAs had little say in the selection of Basavaraj Bommai as Yediyurappa’s successor, the new chief minister seems to have had little role in the appointment of his own council of ministers. Bommai seemed clueless about who his ministers would be even three hours before the swearing-in ceremony, repeatedly appearing before television cameras to say that he was waiting for the list from the party president and admitting that the decision to do away with the post of deputy chief minister was also that of the high command, not his. Bommai may have used this as a ploy to insulate himself from attacks by aspirants who did not make it to the ministry, but in the process, he has painted himself as a weak chief minister who submits easily to the diktats of the party’s ‘high command’.

While some fresh blood was infused into the cabinet, with a few seniors being dropped, the BJP could have used this opportunity to install a much more credible cabinet, considering that Assembly elections are just about two years away. With 13 districts going unrepresented in the council of ministers, the effort seems to have been more at satisfying caste and other political compulsions than on merit and regional representation. A lion’s share of eight ministries has gone to the Lingayat community, to which both Bommai and his predecessor Yediyurappa belong, while 10 of the 29 new ministers are ‘migrants’ from the Congress and Janata Dal (S), thus leaving little room for others. While at one level, the central leadership has acquiesced to Yediyurappa’s demands, particularly in choosing his successor, it has also sent a clear signal that his writ will no longer run large, by refusing to make his son B Y Vijayendra a minister. The decision not to induct some strong supporters of Yediyurappa as well as those who had openly revolted against him should be seen as a message to all that indiscipline will not be tolerated.

Bommai is the fourth chief minister after the 2018 Assembly elections. The state cannot afford any more instability. While it is going to be a tightrope walk for Bommai, who has to keep both different factions within the state unit and an overbearing high command in good humour, he will nonetheless be required to display some strong leadership and, at least, a modicum of independence, to steer the state toward progress.