Newly-anointed K’taka CM a Lingayat leader, BSY aide
For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Basavaraj Bommai is the ideal candidate to replace BS Yediyurappa as the Karnataka chief minister. The 61-year-old is a Lingayat, obedient to the central leadership and a close associate of the outgoing CM. According to party insiders, all groups within the BJP are happy with the decision and believe that the change of power, which could have affected the party adversely, has culminated well with Bommai’s appointment.
Unlike Yediyurappa, who was part of the BJP from its inception, Bommai started his political career with the Janata Dal. He worked with senior leaders, including former prime minister HD Deve Gowda and Ramakrishna Hegde during this time. In 2008, he left the Janata Dal (United) and joined the BJP.
A graduate in mechanical engineering, Bommai was elected as a member of the Karnataka legislative council in 1998 and 2004 from Dharwad. He was thrice elected to Karnataka legislative assembly from the Shiggaon constituency in Haveri district in 2008, 2013 and 2018.
This is the second time in the state’s political history that a father-son duo has held the chief minister’s post -- after HD Deve Gowda in 1994 and HD Kumaraswamy in 2006 and 2018. The incoming CM’s father SR Bommai was instrumental in the Janata Party forming a government in the state for the first time in 1983 and became the chief minister in 1988, after then chief minister Ramakrishna Hedge had to resign over snooping charges.
However, his socialist father is best remembered for a landmark battle in the Supreme Court — SR Bommai versus Union of India — that he fought for five years after his government fell following defections in 1989. The 1994 judgment in that case laid down certain guidelines against the misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution by the central government to impose President’s Rule on states with unfriendly governments. He had moved court against the governor’s refusal to provide him the opportunity to prove majority on the floor of the House.
The selection of junior Bommai comes after several pontiffs from Lingayat mutts in the state had warned the BJP central command against removing Yediyurappa, a tall leader of the Lingayat community. The Lingayat community forms close to 16% of the state’s population and has been a loyal vote base for the BJP. His appointment is expected to appease the community, according to BJP leaders.
During this term as the home minister, Bommai made headlines over his October 2019 announcement to create Karnataka’s own National Register of Citizens (NRC) on the lines of the one in Assam even before the Union government issued any orders. However, following a backlash, he claimed that it would only be a survey of foreigners overstaying in India and no NRC.
He was also a trusted lieutenant of Yediyurappa and often spoke in the assembly on behalf of the government. “Even though he was the home minister, he knew about developments in all departments. You would find him often in the assembly, answering questions on behalf of several departments with clarity,” pointed out a BJP leader on condition of anonymity.
Political analyst and faculty at the Azim Premji University, A Narayana, said the appointment of Bommai was a win-win situation for all stakeholders in the party. “First of all, he is a Lingayat, which takes care of the party’s biggest vote bank. He is close to Yediyurappa, which makes the veteran leader less disgruntled about the new appointment. For Modi and Amit Shah, he is someone who would be obedient, and since he doesn’t have a strong ideological background, even the RSS can push their agenda through him,” he said.
However, another senior BJP said that even though Bommai is close to Yediyurappa, more than his own appointment, the position that would be given to his son would decide his approach towards the party. “As long as Bommai doesn’t become a powerful leader who can push back against the central leadership, he will remain in the post. As of now, he is an ideal candidate for the central leadership,” said the leader who didn’t want to be named.