Second Bommai to become CM, checks all boxes for BJP
For the second time in Karnataka’s political history a father-son duo would have held the chief minister’s post. His father SR Bommai became Karnataka CM in 1988 heading the Janata Dal. government.
For the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), Basavaraj Bommai is the ideal candidate to replace BS Yediyurappa. The 61-year-old is a Lingayat, obedient to the Central leadership and a close associate of BS Yediyurappa. According to party insiders, all groups within the BJP are happy with the decision and believe that the change of power, that 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 and worked with senior leaders including 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 would have held the chief minister’s post. His father SR Bommai was instrumental in the Janata Party forming a government in the state for the first time in 1983 and became the CM in 1988, after then chief minister Ramakrishna Hedge resigned over snooping charges. The other father-son duo to have achieved this feat are Janata Dal Secular President HD Deve Gowda and his son Kumaraswamy.
His socialist father is best remembered for a landmark battle in the Supreme Court known as SR Bommai versus Union of India case that he fought after his government in Karnataka fell following defections. The judgment in that case laid down certain guidelines against the misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution by the Central governments to impose President’s Rule on states with unfriendly governments. He had moved court against the governor’s refusal to provide him an opportunity to prove his majority on floor of the house.
The selection of junior Bommai, a Lingayat, comes after several pontiffs from Lingayat mutts in the state 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 they have been a loyal vote base for the saffron party. His appointment is expected to appease the community, according to BJP leaders.
During this term as the home minister, he made headlines over his announcement to conduct National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Karnataka, even before the Union government issued any orders. In October 2019, he said the Karnataka government is collecting information on immigrants in the state and will work towards Assam-like NRC after a discussion with the Central government. However, following a backlash, he claimed that it will only be a survey of overstaying foreigners and not be an NRC.
He was also a trusted lieutenant of BS Yediyurappa, who often spoke in the assembly on behalf of the government. “Even though he was the home minister, he knew about the development in all departments. You find him often in the assembly, answering the questions on behalf of several departments with clarity,” pointed out a BJP leader.
Political analyst and a 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 unhappy with the new appointment. For Modi and Amit Shah, he is someone who will be obedient...,” he said.
However, a senior leader in the BJP, on the condition of anonymity, said that even though he is close to Yediyurappa, more than Bommai’s appointment, the position given to his son would decide Yediyurappa’s approach towards the party. “As long as Bommai doesn’t become a powerful leader, who pushes 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.