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Can Bommai emerge from Yediyurappa's shadow?

By Aditi Phadnis
Last updated on: August 05, 2021 20:21 IST
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In the course of his various tenures, Yediyurappa made many adversaries.
Bommai, by contrast, knows the Opposition well and has many friends, cutting across parties -- he is, after all, only a 2008 BJP entrant, points out Aditi Phadnis.

IMAGE: Basavaraj Bommai, Karnataka's news chief minister. Photograph: ANI Photo
 

Basavaraj Somappa Bommai, Lingayat leader, home minister in the B S Yediyurappa government and former chief minister and Socialist leader S R Bommai's son, took oath as Karnataka's new chief minister last Wednesday.

There is no reason that any of the BSY government's policies would be reversed as a result of the appointment, Bharatiya Janata Party supporters said.

This means that the allocation of 3,667 acres of land in Ballari to JSW Steel, that is on hold, will likely continue to be on hold.n In May, the BSY cabinet withdrew its approval for the lease-cum-sale land deal with the company following a political tussle in which many in the BJP opposed the sale.

The move to hold back on cabinet confirmation on the sale was seen as Yediyurappa taking a step back to ease the ongoing power tussle in the BJP and the pressure on him.

The sale is a 15-year old saga and when the Congress-Janata Dal-Secular government was in power (2019). As BJP MLA, Bommai had opposed it vehemently. In April this year, the BSY cabinet approved the deal. In May, it reversed the confirmation, with Bommai himself announcing as law minister that the government would not go ahead with it.

What happens now to the deal is a matter of speculation and a complex legal process. The BSY government in going ahead with the deal had merely obeyed a high court order, said the former chief minister's supporters. But a fresh court case was filed and the matter will likely go through another round of judicial scrutiny.

A H Vishwanath, an MLC and one of BSY's prime critics, had accused the former chief minister's family with having accepted bribes to 'facilitate' cabinet approval.

There are many other policy decisions that Bommai will now have to take. The new chief minister, supporters said, has a masterly understanding on Karnataka's river water disputes. Rather than BSY's uncompromising bluntness, Bommai will likely employ a degree of diplomacy with neighbouring states including Tamil Nadu to try to keep disputes at bay.

Karnataka is battling floods now, but a water-sharing dispute over the Cauvery river will eventually re-surface.

In 2020, Karnataka announced a five-year industrial policy that required only affidavit-based commitments by industry to set up new units. It was designed to align with recent reforms such as amendments to the Land Reforms Act, 1961, the Labour Act, and Karnataka Industries (Facilitation) (Amendment) Act, 2002. However, the implementation was held up because of Covid-19. The policy is expected to proceed apace now.

"Bommai has an intricate understanding on water resources, especially hydel projects. Expect a lot of development in this field," said a supporter.

Yediyurappa had a stature in the state, given his work in the party and the organisation. But in the course of his various tenures, he also made many adversaries.

Bommai, by contrast, knows the Opposition well and has many friends, cutting across parties -- he is, after all, only a 2008 BJP entrant.

In appointing Bommai, the central BJP has shown rare sensitivity in honouring its promise to the outgoing veteran: That no matter whom they made CM, it would not be a person from among the group that ran a campaign against the 75-plus leader.

While BJP Organising Secretary B L Santhosh's rivalry with Yediyurappa prevented him from being a replacement, others who were overtly critical of Yediyurappa were also not considered.

Bommai is a Lingayat who has been a Yediyurappa supporter consistently. Although the former CM said he would name no one as his successor, he may have indicated that Bommai would have his support.

He does not consider Bommai a caste rival. In fact, supporters point to the optics: Bommai and Yediyurappa drove in the same car to the hotel where the legislature party elected Bommai as successor to Yediyurappa.

"While chief ministerial aspirants like Arvind Bellad, Murugesh Nirani and Jagadish Shettar travelled to Delhi to lobby for themselves, only smart Ganesh (Bommai) stayed back, visited Yediyurappa and became CM," said a supporter.

The reference is to the mythological story where Ganesh defeated his brother Kartikeya in a competition to circle the world three times to prove themselves. Kartikeya went round the world, Ganesh merely went round his parents, Shiva and Parvati, indicating they were his world.

Two castes, the Vokkaliga and the Lingayat, are the dominant social groups in Karnataka. The tussle for power between these two communities has never been a secret. Karnataka has had five chief ministers from the Vokkaliga community in different spells, six have been Lingayats.

Three chief ministers have been from the backward classes while Brahmins have managed to hold the top spot in Karnataka twice.

The Vokkaligas, who comprise 15 per cent of the five crore-odd population of Karnataka, are spread mainly across Bangalore, Mandya, Hassan, Mysore, Kolar and Chikamagalur.

The Lingayats comprise 17 per cent of the population of Karnataka and are dominant in the central and northern parts of Karnataka.

The Dalits in Karnataka comprise 23 per cent of the population, Kurubas 8 per cent while the Muslims make up 10 per cent. The rest of the population comprises Christians and others.

The last memorable Lingayat chief minister was Veerendra Patil, when the Congress was in power in the state in the 1980s. Patil, however, suffered a stroke in saddle and was unable to function for several months. Rajiv Gandhi, then prime minister, ordered his replacement. Patil died soon after, his community said, of a broken heart.

The Lingayats promised to avenge the humiliation and moved en masse to the BJP.

Between the 1980s and the decade of 2000, a lot had changed in the political landscape of Karnataka. The state -- especially the Hubli, Dharwad Mangalore region -- had always been strongly majoritarian. During BJP leader L K Advani's rath yatra in 1990, one of the largest contingent of kar sevaks was from North Karnataka. This is the region to which Yediyurappa belongs.

Unlike the topography of south Karnataka -- the fertile rich alluvial plains of Hassan and Mandya -- North Karnataka is poor, arid, badly irrigated and always on edge, perched on a communal tinder box. This was fertile ground for the growth and development of the BJP.

But Bommai belongs to Shiggaon and his constituency has a strong Muslim presence. It is unlikely that he will take hardline positions on minority management.

Elections to the assembly are due in the summer of 2023. Bommai will be working towards those.

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Aditi Phadnis in New Delhi
Source: source
 
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