In Home Minister Amit Shah’s praise of recently sworn-in Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai on Thursday, there was discernible relief that appears to have descended on the otherwise turmoil-hit BJP in the state.
Since the BJP came to power through the backdoor in the state in July 2019, the party was a completely divided house. Wrecker-in-chief, BS Yediyurappa, who almost single-handedly brought down the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition in the state, was unable to carry along the BJP with him.
From shambles to strength
Having been reluctantly made chief minister by his party, Mr Yediyurappa kept his promise to the Congress-JD(S) defectors and named them ministers in his government leading to considerable heartburn in the saffron party.
Moreover, his aging constitution appeared unable to handle the physical exertions of being a chief minister. The result was his younger son BY Vijayendra handled the nitty-gritty of governance leading to further alienation of senior BJP politicians.
The ensuing revolt simmered and blew up by turns during Yediyurappa’s two-year tenure, with the central leadership unable to figure out how to handle the situation.
Eventually, Yediyurappa agreed to step down paving the way for a new chief minister. His suggestion on Basavaraj Bommai as replacement seems to have worked well. For Bommai, since his assumption of office, has not appeared domineering and inclined to accommodate the various factions within the party.
Shah’s relief stems from the fact that for the first time since Bommai took over, the infighting in the party has actually subsided.
Just prior to Bommai, a perception had gained ground that the BJP was fast losing goodwill in the state, given that the administration was in a shambles with no major projects or achievements for the party to crow about since taking over from the previous government. Even day-to-day governance was badly hit.
So much so, the Congress had started behaving as if it had already won the next Assembly elections. The latent power struggle between former chief minister Siddaramaiah and state party president D K Shivakumar came into the open, with colleagues in the party talking of either one or the other as the next chief minister.
The tussle between the two reached a point where the Congress leadership in Delhi had to step in to calm things down, as elections are at least two years away and not to get carried away by the anti-BJP sentiment.
Bommai, BJP’s Mr Right
Amidst this, the central leadership appeared to have picked the right candidate in Bommai. Ironically, the party did not find anyone suitable within its saffron stable and instead relied on an ex-Janata Dal defector. While this reflects the state of the BJP in Karnataka, for the time being, these contradictions are being papered over as Bommai has managed to assuage various factions within the party.
The choice of ministers in his ministry too, which normally is a cause for revolts in political parties, did not cause much consternation. Either Bommai got the political arithmetic right or the central leadership and the party’s mentor, the RSS, had given instructions to the state unit not to make a fuss over the choice of ministers. There were a few sulks like in the case of the portfolio for Anand Singh but that seems to have been resolved.
The result is that Bommai is now appearing to make up for lost time by announcing various projects with a special emphasis on Bengaluru. He has been able to inaugurate, for instance, a long-pending extension of the Metro line in one part of the city.
Not just that, he has personally taken over all pending projects in Bengaluru city. Bommai has also reportedly instructed his officials to keep him apprised of the progress of projects on a regular basis. Every day, before he starts other work, he says he intends to spend one hour looking exclusively at many long-delayed projects in the capital city.
In his enthusiasm for announcing new projects, Bommai has also announced a high-speed rail link between the city and the Bengaluru international airport. He probably didn’t realise that this project had already been announced earlier and also dropped as it was not found feasible. Bommai’s announcement caused much surprise, nay shock, among officials and activists who had opposed the project.
Whether he will take a relook at the project or go for it will be known shortly, but it clearly shows he has decided to add a few purported achievements to his and the party’s credit before elections are announced in 2023.
Soft-spoken and self-effacing, Bommai does not come across as an assertive “leader” that people have got used to like Yediyurappa, Siddaramaiah or DK Shivakumar. But going by his activity since he took over a month ago, he has come across as one who is firm and a politician with some ideas on public behaviour.
His politically correct moves like asking for Kannada books to be presented as gifts in public functions instead of garlands and shawls has, for instance, won him brownie points.
Shah mentioned some of these moves of Bommai at a public function in Davanagere on Thursday. For the first time in the last two years, Shah had something positive to talk about the party in a public forum—so his relief is not entirely surprising.
A note of caution
However, some media reports caution that the peace within the party cannot be taken for granted—though for now there is no possible reason how and why a new revolt should occur. One reason for the discomfiture is the planned statewide yatra by Yediyurappa to reach out to his supporters and explain to them the positive side of the BJP.
Though ostensibly Yediyurappa’s agenda is positive for the BJP, given his unpredictable nature, there is a suspicion whether the former chief minister is playing for as yet unspoken reason. One of them is the fact that his son Vijayendra, though appointed as state unit vice-president (one of four vice-presidents), needs to entrench himself as an acceptable leader.
Yediyurappa’s yatra could be an attempt by the father to introduce his son politically to his supporters in the state and through that hope to safeguard Vijayendra’s political future. A section of the BJP has reportedly opposed this yatra but the former chief minister is one who generally does not care much for detractors.
Whether Amit Shah’s Davanagere smile will be short-lived or endure until 2023 will be known after the forthcoming Ganesh festival when Yediyurappa is scheduled to commence his yatra.