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'Nightwatchman' Bommai will stay till polls

By Radhika Ramaseshan
August 27, 2022 11:06 IST
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Success in Karnataka's assembly polls will hinge on two factors: Drop a large number of incumbent MLAs and project Modi and not the state leaders, least of all Bommai.

IMAGE: Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader B S Yediyurappa, right, offers sweets to Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj S Bommai on BSY being appointed a member of the BJP's national parliamentary board and central poll panel in Bengaluru, August 17, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Basavaraj Bommai is again an object of ire.

The only difference is this time, the Karnataka chief minister is under siege from his own party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh fraternity.

The attack is ironical, considering that the better part of his year-long tenure was expended on burnishing his pro-Sangh leanings and underplaying his Socialist provenance -- an exercise he accomplished at great cost to his inheritance as the son of Somappa Rayappa Bommai, a former Karnataka CM who was an architect of the Janata Party in the state and a champion of federalism.

"His latitude to govern independently is circumscribed by the BJP's seniors and the RSS," remarked a Bengaluru-based political observer.


The provocation for the fresh assault on Bommai was the murder of Praveen Nettaru, a BJP Yuva Morcha activist, at a village in Dakshina Kannada district in July.

Since then, 10 people were arrested, but the killing had a disconcerting aftermath.

When Nalin Kateel, the BJP's Karnataka president and Dakshina Kannada Member of Parliament, and state minister Sunil Kumar Karkala visited the village, Bellare, they were heckled by Sangh and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad activists.

A campaign was afoot on social media calling for a 'tougher' CM and by implication, Bommai's ouster.

Bommai was forced to call off his government's first anniversary celebrations on July 28, following an outcry against 'showing off' his achievements against the backdrop of the murder.

The 'high points' of Bommai's term were his indifference, if not tacit encouragement, to the Sangh's offensive against Muslim women for wearing a hijab to schools and colleges that led to a ban on headscarves, passing the disputed anti-conversion Bill through an executive order, threatening to adopt the Yogi Adityanath 'model' of knocking down the properties of minorities if they 'defied' legal injunctions and confronted Hindus, and most recently, initiating steps to 'transfer' the Idgah ground in Bengaluru's Chamarajpete.

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, the city's municipal corporation, claimed the Idgah ground, housing the minar wall which the faithful face while praying, 'belonged' to the revenue department and not the Waqf Board.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad demanded the ground be renamed after Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar, an erstwhile Mysore maharaja. The VHP also said it would install Ganesha's deity at the Idgah ground before Ganesh Chaturthi on August 31.

Despite innumerable visits to Delhi and calling on Union Home Minister Amit Anilchandra Shah and BJP General Secretary (organisation) Bommarabettu Laxmijanardhana Santhosh, Bommai has not got the go-ahead to expand his cabinet and fill in the five remaining vacancies.

One of them arose when a former cabinet minister and BJP veteran, K S Eshwarappa, quit after a contractor implicated him in a suicide note.

The Udupi police that investigated the suicide gave Eshwarappa a clean chit, following which he moved the decision-makers to reinstate him.

Ramesh Jarkiholi, a former Congressman, was dropped after tapes surfaced alleging he sought sexual favours from a woman for getting her a government job.

Jarkiholi leveraged his 'clout' in the Valmiki-Nayaka Scheduled Tribe community in Belgaum district to pressure the leaders for a re-induction.

With the assembly polls eight months away, the leadership is aware of the political damage that Jarkiholi can cause.

"My own sense is Bommai doesn't have the guts to broach the subject of a cabinet shuffle with the Delhi bosses. He's too weak to take initiative on his own," said a BJP source.

Bommai's plight, worsened by the recent turn of events, seemed instigated by BJP insiders.

B Suresh Gowda, former Tumkur Rural member of the legislative assembly, precipitated a crisis of sorts by publicly stating that the CM would be replaced before Independence Day.

'There has been talk in the party. Bommai has done good work. Still the leadership might go for a change. We will abide by the decision of the high command,' claimed Gowda.

"It is clear that Gowda was put up by someone inside the BJP to say this. What is his standing? The Congress picked up the statement, but Congress people rightly say your party started it all," said a Lok Sabha MP close to Bommai.

The BJP has instituted an 'internal probe' to nail the 'culprit', but nothing has come out of it so far.

In the intrigue-ridden ambience of the Karnataka BJP, Bommai counted only on a handful of his colleagues to survive.

Santhosh and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi -- whose cheerleaders fancifully placed them as number three and four in Delhi's pecking order after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah -- have allegedly exploited Bommai's 'vulnerability' to suit their political interests.

Others felt emboldened to say what they pleased.

Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, a former minister and legislator, alleged that it cost Rs 2,500 crore (Rs 25 billion) to wangle the top job in the state and Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) to become a minister.

Yatnal was an aspirant for the CM's post when Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yediyurappa was on the decline.

To date, the party has not pulled up Yatnal.

IMAGE: Yediyurappa, left, meets Prime Minister and BJP supremo Narendra Damodardas Modi in New Delhi, August 26, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Then, there's Yediyurappa's shadow-dogging Bommai.

On a recent visit to Bengalaru to assess the fallout of Nettaru's murder, Shah had breakfast with the former CM.

Despite his woes, it appears the central brass will let Bommai stay on until state elections in May 2023.

"He came as a night watchman and remained as one, without playing a bold stroke," said a BJP source, adding, "Perhaps such an attitude best suits Delhi."

There's unanimity that success in the assembly polls will hinge on two factors: Drop a large number of incumbent MLAs and project Modi as the central protagonist and not the state leaders, least of all Bommai.

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Radhika Ramaseshan in New Delhi
Source: source