Bengaluru: Tuesday marks two months since Basavaraj Bommai took oath as chief minister of Karnataka.
In his 60 days in office, Bommai has gone all-out to shake off his perceived image as a loyalist of former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, has looked to build bridges between the government and the party but, most importantly, has been cosying up to the Sangh.
As a former Janata Party leader, the strongest criticism against Bommai, from within the BJP, was that he did not have his roots in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
As if to offset this criticism, Bommai has been passionately defending the RSS, in the state assembly as well as outside.
The latest instance came Sunday, when Bommai reportedly told the media that the National Education Policy (NEP) “would talk about India’s true history and teach nationalism to children”.
The statement in Belagavi came barely days after he retorted to the Congress, on the floor of the Karnataka Assembly, that he would be “proud” if the NEP was designed by the RSS.
“There is nothing wrong if National Education Policy is an RSS agenda,” Bommai said after Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah referred to the NEP as “Nagpur Education Policy”. The chief minister went on to say that “nation, nationalism and RSS are the same”. “RSS means nationalism,” he said.
A week earlier, on 21 September, Bommai again defended the RSS when the assembly adopted the Chanakya University Bill, 2021, which allows the construction of the institution, backed by the Centre for Education and Social Studies (CESS).
The Congress deemed that the university was “RSS backed”, as most members of CESS are from the organisation, and questioned the government’s motives behind allotting land that is worth Rs 175 crore for just Rs 50 crore to the university.
A defiant Bommai said there was nothing wrong in allowing land for educational institutions, adding that his government was willing to give permissions to “10 such universities”.
Bommai’s decision to introduce a bill last week to protect illegal religious structures following the backlash his government received over a temple demolition in Nanjangud too has not gone unnoticed by the Sangh or the party.
“He has taken legislators into confidence with his strong arguments in favour of the party, the Sangh and the government’s bills. His defence of NEP on the floor of the House was very impressive,” Dr Bharat Shetty, a BJP MLA and an RSS karyakarta, told ThePrint.
Shetty noted that Bommai’s speech in the party’s executive committee meeting earlier in September was welcomed by all. “He was honest and came across more like a statesman than a politician,” Shetty said.
Other BJP leaders rooted in the Sangh too have similar opinions of the chief minister’s tenure so far.
“There was disappointment among loyal workers of the party and the Sangh when Bommai was chosen as chief minister since he is not ideologically rooted,” a senior BJP national executive functionary had told The Print right after Bommai took oath as CM.
Now a minister in the Bommai cabinet, the senior leader’s stance has softened. “There is coordination between party and government. He is attentive to concerns and is patient unlike his predecessor,” the minister said, comparing Bommai’s style of leadership to that of Yediyurappa.
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Problems on the horizon
While Bommai seems to have managed to score brownie points from the Sangh with his recent statements and decisions, not all is hunky dory.
“For a newly-elected government, the honeymoon period is six months but for a mid-term government like Bommai’s, it is only three months,” a national BJP general secretary told ThePrint.
With Bommai’s ‘honeymoon period’ nearing its end, issues that haunted Yediyurappa are slowly but surely making a comeback.
During the assembly session last week, BJP legislators raised concerns over funds shortage — a complaint they had raised during Yediyurappa’s tenure. Lack of funds for developmental work formed the crux of legislators’ irritation with the former chief minister. For now, Bommai has sought a month’s time to release funds.
During the same session, BJP MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal raked up the issue of inclusion of Panchamasali Lingayats — an influential and numerically superior sub-sect of Lingayat community — under 2A category of state’s reservation quota. Another BJP MLA, Arvind Bellad, too joined in, much to the embarrassment of the government.
In February this year, Panchamasali Lingayats had held mass agitations across the state making a dent in then chief minister Yediyurappa’s image as a Lingayat strongman. As the matter made a comeback, Bommai, much like Yediyurappa, has asked community leaders to wait for the Backward Classes Commission’s report on the matter.
Echoing senior BJP leaders, political analysts too believe that Bommai’s honeymoon period is ending and that he must brace for more challenges.
“So far it was a honeymoon period and people were quiet. But soon they will expect more action and results on the ground. Given the fact that the BJP Legislature Party is diverse in Karnataka, there will be a lot of pressure on Bommai to keep all segments of the party happy. He will have to be quietly assertive,” Dr Sandeep Shastri, political analyst and National Coordinator of Lokniti Network told The Print.
Shastri, however, pointed out that Bommai has the advantage of high command’s backing.
“His biggest advantage is the support he enjoys from the central leadership of the party,” the analyst said. “The central leadership hasn’t burdened him with rival centres of power as well. He must use that effectively. If assertion is not demonstrated, then people will view it as weakness.”
While his lack of assertion during the formation of his cabinet and severe dependence on the central leadership drew Bommai flak from the opposition, Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s endorsement of his leadership seems to have affected much change.
“The last two months have brought in more confidence in the cabinet. Bommai speaks to everybody openly. We have cabinet meetings every week. Ministers and legislators are able to communicate better. Things are better than they were before,” K.S. Eshwarappa, Minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR), told ThePrint.
Barely three weeks ago Eshwarappa had been miffed with the idea that the party would go to polls under Bommai’s leadership.
“The party’s decision to pick Bommai came as a surprise, and not a pleasant one, even to the Sangh. After B.S. Yediyurappa’s exit, the Sangh was hoping to have one of their own,” said a senior party functionary close to Yediyurappa.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
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