Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai completed one year in office only in July. At a time his government’s performance should have been the talking point, speculation of Bommai’s replacement is capturing headlines.
“Will he go, won’t he go” questions over Bommai’s chief ministership in Karnataka are not new. Barely five months after he took office, questions were raised about him being replaced.
But here is the thing.
The BJP is not in the habit of accepting its mistakes.
Picking Bommai to replace a political giant like BS Yediyurappa was the BJP central leadership’s call.
Choosing Bommai — whose roots are in the Janata Party and not the RSS — to replace BS Yediyurappa, a man firmly rooted in the Sangh and the BJP, was the BJP central leadership’s call.
Picking Bommai, who belongs to the minor Sadar Lingayat sub-sect, as an alternative to a Lingayat mass leader like Yediyurappa was the BJP central leadership’s call.
Admission of political blunder
Replacing Bommai now, barely a year into his chief ministership, can be seen as nothing more than the party’s public admission of a political blunder in its choice.
Ask anyone in the BJP who calls the shots and the answer is pretty direct: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have the final say in the party.
The best example of this is the recent addition of the word “high command” to the BJP’s vocabulary.
The saffron party used to often mock the Congress about its purported system where the Gandhi family was the sole decision-maker — the high command, Now it is common parlance within the BJP to refer to its top two leaders: Modi and Shah.
The choice of Basavaraj Bommai as chief minister too came from the duo. Bommai was chosen from a long-list of probable candidates, including now industries minister Murugesh Nirani and MLA Arvind Bellad — both Panchamasali Lingayats — and Union Minister Pralhad Joshi, a Brahmin pushed by BJP Organising Secretary BL Santhosh, among others.
Bommai was accepted as a consensus candidate after the central leadership of the BJP zeroed in on him.
Failing to meet expectations
There is little doubt that Bommai has failed to meet the party’s expectations. Son of a former chief minister and a socialist, Bommai, from day one in office, has bent over backwards to impress the BJP’s central leadership and the RSS. But most often this has been at the cost of his instinctive self, and often landed him in the eye of a storm.
With allegations of nepotism and corruption causing resentment against Yediyurappa, the central leaders of the BJP seized the opportunity to oust him — arguably the tallest leader of the party in Karnataka.
In his place, the Modi and Shah brought in Bommai — someone who was less assertive and barely influential, but would be accommodating, submissive and open to be moulded. In the bargain, the BJP central leadership chose a chief minister with little hold over government, party, ministers, and even cadres.
Worse, for a party that was attempting to send a message of zero-tolerance towards corruption by ousting Yediyurappa, a host of alleged scams hit the Bommai government.
From electoral losses — most significantly in the Hangal bypolls, in Bommai’s backyard — to corruption allegations like the attempted cover-up of the bitcoin scam and the PSI recruitment scam, from failing to establish influence in the community as well cadre, Bommai’s first year in office has been tumultuous.
“There is a lot of anger among cadres against the way things are being handled. Even after all this time, no efforts are being made to meet cadres and win them over. We no longer have leaders that command the cadres’ respect in positions of power,” a former BJP chief minister of Karnataka told South First.
That is a reflection on the BJP under Bommai’s chief ministership and Nalin Kumar Kateel’s presidentship in the state.
Cut off from cadres
“The protests we saw on ground following Praveen Nettaru’s murder was designed by our own people with political calculations. It was aimed at putting some leaders on the spot, but that won’t impact the party in the long run,” a senior BJP Rajya Sabha member from Karnataka told South First.
If internal sabotage attempts are anything to go by, it comes as no surprise that murmurs of Bommai being replaced as chief minister keep resurfacing almost every alternate week.
What’s discussed in the party’s internal circles, but is often left out of public discourse, is how the BJP’s central leadership made a mistake in picking Bommai as chief minister, and Kateel as state party president, especially in the run-up to Assembly elections.