Karnataka has seen the change of guard this week. The 61- year-old Basavaraj Bommai took over from BJP leader B.S.Yediyurappa on Wednesday ending a month-long political drama. Incidentally, Bommai is not originally from the BJP or the RSS as he hails from the Janata Parivar.
He is the son of the late Janata Dal leader and former chief minister of Karnataka S. R. Bommai (1988-1999). Basavaraj is an engineer and claims that he is an ‘accidental’ chief minister. He was working for the Tatas when circumstances made him jump into politics when he was a 33-yearold. In 1993, he made his political debut with the youth Janata Dal.
He became the political secretary of former Chief Minister J.H.Patel. However, when infighting in the Janata Parivar started, Basavaraj joined the BJP in 2008, shifting from his father Bommai’s shadow to Yediyurappa’s shadow. He became the Water Resources minister in the first-ever BJP government in Karnataka.
The BJP high command chose him over the other claimants as he was a safe bet. He has many advantages like education, administrative abilities as well as closeness to Yediyurappa. He is also a Lingayat. The high command saw him as the right man to lead the party in the 2023 Assembly polls.
Bommai will be wearing a crown of thorns. Though he has been a minister in every BJP government in the state and has had administrative experience, the road ahead is bumpy. No doubt, he has experience in handling diverse portfolios from Water Resources to Law and Parliamentary affairs to Home and Finance. But heading the government is not easy when the state is facing political, economic and health challenges.
He will not be able to function if he has no freedom either from the Central leadership or Yediyurappa, who will continue to look over his shoulder. Bommai’s challenges are in the political, economic, and health areas. The new chief minister’s first challenge is to pick his team.
Will he have a free hand? Also, he cannot drastically change Yediyurappa’s team. Then there is a question of accommodating those who defected from outside. He has to prove he is no rubber stamp as he will have to walk a tightrope between the central BJP leadership and his mentor Yeddyurappa.
Bommai himself listed his priorities soon after being elected by party MLAs. The first task is to face floods and Covid-19 head-on and give rescue and relief to the last man in trouble. The second is to put the administration in a higher mode of efficiency. The third is to take on economic challenges in the state.
The fourth is to implement the budgetary programmes of Yeddyurappa. “I promise the people of Karnataka and the leaders I will rise to the occasion and keep their faith,” he told the media soon after taking over. Bommai can achieve all this only if he gets out of Yediyurappa’s shadow first. The Lingayat strongman has no idea of moving away from politics, and Yediyurappa is likely to meddle in the political arena.
Only time will tell how the equations will work in the coming months. Bommai also has to keep the RSS happy. Bommai’s challenge is to emerge as the Lingayat leader as he belongs to the minuscule Sadar sub-caste. Being from North Karnataka, he has to deal with the region’s aspirations. Lingayat reservation is a boiling issue.
If the seers withdraw their support, the BJP would have to rely on other caste groups. Bommai also knows first hand the distress of farmers and the hardship of the business community. That is why he said, “We are a national party and want to take all communities together. My priority is to address the economic and regional (issues).”
Obtaining support from senior party leaders and cadres is also necessary. He will have to spend the first six months dealing with immediate issues, and the next six months preparing for elections. It is a golden chance for Bommai and he should not miss the opportunity.
Making the right kind of noises, Bommai says, “My responsibilities have increased. I have to live up to the expectations of everyone. I am confident I will take everybody along, and I will also take the opposition along on matters of state.” It is easy to promise many things though it is indeed hard to deliver. One has to wish the new chief minister well.