The change of guard undertaken by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Karnataka government, the only state in Southern India the party manages to keep its flag flying, can be characterised as a calculated risk its central leadership made two years ahead of the assembly polls.
By installing Basavaraj Bommai as the Chief Minister, the BJP sought to balance several factors in the state and its unit in Karnataka where politics revolves around two influential communities — Lingayats and Vokkalings.
Replacing the septuagenarian BS Yediyurappa, the person who toiled for decades to build the party as a formidable political force was never going to be easy. Although talk of an imminent change began doing the rounds a few weeks ago, the rearguard action by the outgoing Chief Minister dictated the pace of events and eventually his successor.
Facing the inevitable ejection from the post of Chief Minister, Yediyurappa rallied community leaders of various "Mutts” demonstrating his ability to garner support, which led to the BJP announcing the replacement from among a member of the community.
Basvaraj Bommai is no greenhorn to power politics. Son of former Janata Dal Chief Minister S R Bommai, he cut his political teeth as the Political Secretary to another Janata Dal Chief Minister JH Patel and began his innings in the State Legislature as a member of the Council in 1998 and remained there for a decade.
Moving over to the BJP towards the end of this period, Bommai crafted a name as a close confidant of the outgoing Chief Minister which tipped the scales in his favour amid efforts by the party to have Yeddiyurppa hand over the reins to a person of its choice. In a now established practice in Indian politics, Bommai’s name as his successor was proposed by Yeddyurappa, a move that allows the party to settle ruffled feathers.
Now in the saddle, the Chief Minister faces challenges both on the political and administrative front. The new CM identified tackling floods as one of his immediate priorities. Armed with experience as a Minister in the Yeddiyurappa Cabinet on two occasions, Bommai hit the ground running without delay reviewing the tasks at hand with bureaucrats soon after taking oath on Wednesday.
In an expanded format like the rest of the country, the COVID-19 challenge remains while in the context of Karnataka, the new Chief Minister has a slightly less than 48 months window to complete the development works as the countdown for elections ticks away.
It is on the political plane that his skills would be tested on several fronts. One, the new Chief Minister would seek to build upon his persona as an effective administrator earned through his dexterous handling of legal issues of water sharing dispute with neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu; as the Home Minister in the last government; and, a politician with across the aisle relationship honed by his role as a Parliamentary Affairs Minister. In addition, the CM will work to fortify his clean image amid allegations of corruption against his predecessor.
While seeking to deliver on promises the BJP made, the second factor for Bommai is to assiduously work and remove any impression of being driven by Yediyurappa. In promising to consult the predecessor, the CM asserted he would not be a ‘’rubber stamp’’, a clear message he is the one who will take decisions. In doing so Bommai would have to avoid upsetting the existing order and pitfalls that led to the exit of two previous party Chief Ministers, D V Sadanand Gowda and Jagdish Shettar.
Interestingly, in the mid-1980s when Arjun Singh was moved out for another assignment and Motilal Vora took over as the Chief Minister of undivided Madhya Pradesh, a recurrent question was whether the decision he took had the approval of the previous Chief Minister. Eventually, the barbs led to, ‘Babuji’, as the late Congress leader Vora was known, gradually asserting his authority.
The third challenge presents itself in the form of accommodating seniors and party loyalists. Shettar announced his preference not to be in the new Council of Ministers while the latter would have to be adjusted in the new Council of Ministers vis-à-vis those who crossed the floor allowing Yediyurappa to topple H D Kumaraswamy government a few seasons ago.
Carrying along different factions and competing sections in the party would be the fourth trial for the CM and in the process, work to get rid of the ‘outsider’ tag without umbilical links with the RSS. In the next two years, Bommai would have to emerge as an alternate leader of the powerful community with a substantial following within the party and the state. This factor would gain ground with Yediyurappa preferring to stay put in Karnataka instead of accepting a gubernatorial post and work for the party.
Today, ironically three important leaders in the present Karnataka Assembly — Chief Minister Bommai, and two former Chief Ministers, Leader of the Opposition, Siddaramaiah and Janata Dal (Secular) Legislature Party leader H D Kumaraswamy were minted in Janata Dal. Politics, as the saying goes, is the art of possibilities.
— KV Prasad is a senior journalist and has earlier worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. The views expressed are personal.
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)
First Published: IST