Being Bommai: On new Karnataka Chief Minister

Being Bommai: On new Karnataka Chief Minister

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The new Chief Minister will have to strike a balance between conflicting interests

The new Chief Minister of Karnataka, Basavaraj Bommai, has to reconcile several conflicting factors while appointing his Council of Ministers. His predecessor B.S. Yediyurappa was ejected by the Bharatiya Janata Party high command that wants a new start in the State. The new Chief Minister is seen as aligned to Mr. Yediyurappa and both belong to the Lingayat community that is strong, numerically and economically. Mr. Yediyurappa’s heyday might be behind him, but he continues to hold significant sway among voters. Given the circumstance, the challenge before Mr. Bommai is to strike a balance between the imperatives of change and continuity. Mr. Yediyurappa had little moral scruples in pursuing political power and the Bharatiya Janata Party rode on his shoulders until recently. But the baggage that came with it has been heavy. He masterminded large-scale defections from the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) to aggregate an Assembly majority for the Bharatiya Janata Party that it had not won in the election. Allegations of nepotism and corruption shadowed his tenure. The steadfast support that he enjoyed among the Lingayats, who remain the backbone of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s social base in Karnataka, was intimidating for the party central leadership. And when it finally managed to effect a change, it ensured that the baton was handed over to his nominee and not to any of his many detractors in the party.

Mr. Bommai has to demonstrate to the Lingayats that he is one among them while trying to reach out to other communities and expand the party’s base. He has to balance various interest groups within the Lingayats. He has to shake off the debris of the past without earning the wrath of Mr. Yediyurappa. He has to demonstrate a capacity to govern better than his predecessor but keep various factions and interest groups that held sway during the previous regime happy. He has to deliver on the priorities of the Bharatiya Janata Party high command on the one hand and also balance his known personal convictions with the requirements of Hindutva politics into which he converted as late as 2008, at the age of 48. Even after taking over as Chief Minister, Mr. Bommai spoke about his father and former Chief Minister S.R. Bommai’s “principled politics” that he said was inspired by Left leader M.N. Roy. Mr. Yediyurappa has said it is the Chief Minister’s prerogative to choose his Council, but also expressed confidence that the defectors will be protected. All this at a time when it remains unclear whether the Bharatiya Janata Party’s plans for him are for the longer term. Having come this far without alienating any section within the party or his support base, it is likely that Mr. Bommai will pass the test.

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