‘Under pressure’: Basavaraj Bommai’s first year as chief minister of Karnataka

Bommai, who replaced Yediyurappa as CM last year, has struggled to deliver for the party as well as the government in his first year.

ByAnusha Ravi Sood

Published Jul 28, 2022 | 1:49 AMUpdatedJul 29, 2022 | 2:04 PM

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai

If one phrase could capture Basavaraj Bommai’s one year as chief minister of Karnataka, it should be: ‘under pressure’.

Under pressure to succeed a massively popular leader like BS Yediyurappa, who was forced to quit the post.

Under pressure to head a government whose mandate wasn’t won by him.

Under pressure to perform after being handpicked by the central leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Under pressure to dust off his image as an ‘outsider’ to the BJP and its ideological head Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) given his Janata Party roots.

Under pressure with every allegation of corruption and scams.

Under pressure to defend moral policing incidents with statements like “When sentiments are hurt, naturally, there will be action and reaction”.

Under pressure to establish himself as a leader who can win elections for the party.

Bommai was once a socialist and liberal

Ask those close to him what happened to Bommai — once a socialist, liberal politician — their answer is, you guessed it right, “he is under pressure”.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai (Facebook Offical Page)

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai (Facebook/ Basavaraj Bommai)

In keeping with the trait that has so far defined his one-year stint as chief minister, Bommai, in a midnight press conference, cancelled the event scheduled to celebrate his government’s first anniversary.

“I didn’t have the heart to go ahead with the event looking at Praveen’s mother wailing. I have been struggling with it since Wednesday night and I finally decided to call it off,” Bommai told reporters at the midnight press conference.

Event to mark one year of Bommai as CM cancelled

The decision to cancel the event to mark one year as chief minister, though, came after day-long protests by BJP workers against the Bommai government and the party state leadership headed by Nalin Kumar Kateel.

Under pressure from agitating cadres who were even threatening to boycott the event where BJP national president JP Nadda was supposed to participate, Bommai announced its cancellation.

When someone is under pressure so often, you would imagine them to be helpless. Not in this case.

This ‘under pressure’ is by Bommai’s choice. It is his choice to keep the chief minister’s chair and toe the BJP central leadership’s command.

Perennial crisis

Ideally the last one week should have been Bommai’s time to hit the headlines for his government’s achievements.

Bommai with Yediyurappa

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai with the man he replaced, B S Yediyurappa (Facebook/Basavaraj Bommai)

As Bommai completes one year in office on Thursday, what has captured the headlines in the run-up to this anniversary, however, are crisis situations for the party.

It was Praveen’s murder and the anger that followed that hit headlines on Wednesday.

Earlier last week, it was former chief minister and Bommai’s predecessor Yediyurappa announcing his son’s candidature from his home turf of Shikaripura that captured headlines.

In both these instances, Bommai was caught on the back foot, struggling to find the ‘damage control’ button.

When the BJP ‘high command’ — a fairly new concept for the saffron party borrowed from the Congress — picked Bommai to replace Yediyurappa, his instructions were simple: “You concentrate on good administration, we will take care of elections.”

Bommai first year marked by scams too

A year down the line, Bommai’s government has little to show in terms of governance according to the BJP’s own assessment.

“This is an election year and we do not have anything to go to the people with. No flagship schemes to show off, no big legislation to seek votes on. Continuous allegations of corruption, if anything, has marred our image,” a BJP office-bearer said on discussions that go on in internal party groups.

Ever since he took charge as chief minister, the Bommai government has been marred by allegations of involvement in the multi-crore bitcoin scam, and then corruption and commission of 40 percent by the association of government contractors.

This was followed by the Police Sub Inspector (PSI) recruitment scam, which eventually led to a first-of-its-kind arrest of a serving ADGP-rank IPS officer. Then came the suicide of a Hindutva worker and contractor Santosh over alleged commission demand from Bommai’s Cabinet colleague KS Eshwarappa, compelling him to resign as Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR) minister. Even a religious seer accused the Bommai government of seeking 30 percent cut from funding to Mathas (Hindu monasteries).

Communal flare-ups in Karnataka

One piece of legislation Bommai can claim credit for and ticking off the BJP’s agenda is the Karnataka Protection of Right to Religious Freedom Bill aka anti-conversion Bill. Albeit in the form of an ordinance after a failed attempt in the legislature. Weeks preceding and succeeding the Bill’s tabling in the Legislative Assembly saw attacks on Christian prayer halls and churches by Hindutva workers in Karnataka.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai (Left) (Facebook/Basavaraj Bommai)

A host of campaigns against Muslims in Karnataka by right-wing organisations have gone on unabated under Bommai. From economic boycott of Muslims, protesting against halal meat and loudspeakers in mosques to assaults on Muslim vendors near Hindu temples, and systematic opposition to the hijab in educational institutions, Karnataka under Bommai’s leadership has constantly been in the news for communal flare-ups, along with a dose of moral policing.

On his part, to impress the RSS, Bommai has made promises of developing Anjanadri hills (believed to be the birthplace of Lord Hanuman), bring in legislation to free temples from administrative control of the government, and even introduced concepts like ‘Tunga Arati’ along the lines of ‘Ganga Arati’ on the banks of Varanasi.

Bommai on the backfoot in first year

In the last one year, Bommai has often found himself on the back foot, perhaps a result of the clash between who he instinctively is and who he is trying to be ‘under pressure’ to retain the favour he has found in the BJP’s central leadership circles. The performance of the BJP under him in elections — bypolls to Hangal and Sindgi Assembly constituencies as well as Rajya Sabha and Legislative Council polls — has been underwhelming.

On the one hand are Bommai’s Cabinet colleagues who complain about the chief minister refusing to clear files, and on the other are BJP cadres who are not able to see a leader in Bommai despite his position. Then there are the expectations of the central leadership of the BJP that Bommai would emerge as an alternative to Yediyurappa as leader of Lingayats.

Under pressure constantly, Bommai has not been able to impress anyone with his attempt to impress everyone. The BJP is now hoping to turn the sentiments around with elections barely a few months away and a change of leadership out of the question.