Bommai sitting pretty for now

Bommai sitting pretty for now

A mechanical engineer, Bommai is known for his wit and many vouch for his political manoeuvrability

Basavaraj Bommai. Credit: DH File Photo

Exactly two months ago, B S Yediyurappa stepped down as CM, making way for Basavaraj Bommai to take over the reins.

Easing Yediyurappa out of the CM’s chair was, as one senior BJP leader put it, a “big operation in itself”. The change of guard happened with less than two years remaining for the 2023 Assembly elections in Karnataka, a state that has been the party’s gateway to south India. There is no simple way of answering what the change of guard will mean for the BJP going into the elections. But the impact of the much-needed change will depend on Bommai, who is running against time to impress the electorate. BJP leaders have their fingers crossed.

A mechanical engineer, Bommai is known for his wit and many vouch for his political manoeuvrability. For years, Yediyurappa has been, arguably, the BJP’s tallest leader from the dominant Lingayat community. That he will be replaced was speculated right from the time he took charge as CM for the fourth time in July 2019. And, his loyalists asserted each time that Yediyurappa was irreplaceable, even as the BJP’s unwritten rule of asking its leaders to retire after 75 years of age hung like a sword of Damocles over him.

Replacing Yediyurappa risked losing the support of Lingayats, the party’s largest vote bank that is estimated to form 17% of the state’s population. That’s why another Lingayat was chosen as his replacement. Also, Bommai’s selection is seen as a message to the party’s old guard. After all, Bommai is an ‘outsider’ who joined the party only in 2008. That’s why when Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced that Bommai would lead the party into the 2023 polls, not everybody was impressed.

Also read: Nothing wrong if it's RSS agenda: Basavaraj Bommai defends NEP

Yediyurappa himself vacated the top chair in a teary adieu, summing up his roller-coaster tenure and a parting shot at the BJP central leadership that made it look like a forced exit.

The 78-year-old found support from the Congress, especially former ministers and fellow Lingayats MB Patil and Shamanur Shivashankarappa, who publicly backed him ahead of his exit. Even to this day, the Congress misses no opportunity to tell the BJP that Yediyurappa was coerced to leave.

This is seen as Congress’ attempt to woo the Lingayat community. Earlier this week, Lingayat leaders from the Congress huddled to discuss scripting a narrative ahead of the 2023 polls. Any split in the Lingayat vote bank will hurt the BJP’s prospects. If the Congress succeeds, it will overturn a historical mistake (the dismissal of the Veerendra Patil government) that is said to have resulted in the Lingayats veering away from the party.

Something else happened as soon as Bommai took oath as the chief minister. The JD(S), the definitive kingmakers, said it would lay out a safety net to keep the Bommai government from falling. In fact, JD(S) Legislature Party leader and former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy said Bommai is a Janata Dal CM, referring to his political roots. In this backdrop, it’s anybody’s guess what might happen in the event of a fractured mandate.

Bommai, the high command’s candidate, has the mandate of streamlining the administration while facing the challenge of Covid-19. He has announced his ambitious ‘Amrith’ schemes that cover a gamut of sectors. Improving the state’s battered finances is another area of concern that Bommai must address.

Bommai has also promised rolling out administrative reforms from November. With his welfare push, Bommai is looking to touch as many beneficiaries as possible in the run-up to the elections.

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