Bengaluru: After five months in office that included three elections, two legislative sessions and multiple visits to New Delhi, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has said that posts, positions, even life, “are not permanent”.
The cryptic statement was made by Bommai during an emotional address at the groundbreaking ceremony of a Panchamasali Lingayats community hall in his home constituency Shiggaon, Sunday.
While the CM’s baiters called it an “exit speech”, many in the government said he was just overwhelmed, and denied the possibility of a leadership change. The speech comes at a time when Bommai is struggling to cement his authority in the face of below par electoral fortunes, allegations of corruption, difficulty in emerging as a community leader and the growing distance between the cadres and government.
“It was just a moment of emotional rush. This was the first time he was addressing a gathering on his home turf after the defeat in Hangal assembly bypoll. He was naturally emotional since many within the party had questioned his capacity as a vote winner even among Lingayats after the Hangal defeat,” a source close to the chief minister told ThePrint.
‘Emotional, overwhelmed but no exit’
“Did he say he is resigning? He was being grateful to his constituency and got emotional. There is no question of changing the chief minister, who was a unanimous choice of the central leadership, state unit and former CM B.S. Yediyurappa,” M.P. Renukacharya, political secretary to the CM and Honnali MLA, told reporters outside Suvarna Soudha Monday.
Before Bommai, Industries Minister Murugesh Nirani had taken to the stage at the groundbreaking ceremony Sunday, to speak about the CM’s political future. “Bommai will complete a full term in office. One must not pay heed to rumours in the media. Bommai will finish his term and after his term, much like his father, he too stands the chance of becoming a union minister,” Nirani had told the gathering.
However, a source close to Nirani called the minister’s comments a “slip of the tongue”.
“Nirani shouldn’t have said that in public. That was not to be discussed in a public forum,” the source said, confirming the buzz within the party.
The prediction coming from Nirani — who had been in direct competition with Bommai in the race to chief ministership — added to speculation. In November, senior minister K.S. Eshwarappa had made a statement insisting that Nirani “will become chief minister soon”.
What’s happening in BJP
BJP is abuzz with speculation that Bommai will exit state politics and refrain from contesting the assembly polls in 2023.
“The buzz is that he will only campaign for assembly polls and contest the 2024 Lok Sabha election from Haveri. He will be an asset as a union minister instead of a chief minister here,” a former BJP functionary told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
Other party insiders were of the opinion that Bommai’s statement was the result of him being overwhelmed with criticism from within the party and as well as from outside.
Those who want him gone said Bommai’s ill health owing to his chronic knee pain — which requires surgery and weeks of post-surgery recovery — should be the excuse to shunt him out.
“The whole point of replacing B.S. Yediyurappa was to curb corruption and interference of family members in administration. But now, it is back to square one. For a party its government is successful when every karyakarta feels his/her party is in power. That isn’t the situation here,” a national general secretary of the BJP told ThePrint.
“Whatever seats we won in the Legislative Council polls is because of the party’s efforts in previously held local body polls and not because of the CM,” the national general secretary told ThePrint. As the ruling party, the BJP was expected to win at least 14-15 seats, but won just 11 of the total 25 seats.
A senior minister in the Bommai cabinet claimed that newcomers — MLAs who quit the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) in 2019 to join the BJP, leading to the collapse of the coalition government — are “running” the show.
“Old-timers are forced to sit out while newcomers run the show. Before Bommai reaches his car, these newcomers are already sitting inside. Before Bommai boards a flight they are already waiting for him holding seats,” mocked the senior minister.
‘His weakness is his strength’
While his baiters look at Bommai’s statement as a sign of “accepting defeat”, political analysts see it as an extension of Bommai’s politics.
“His entire politics has never been one from the position of strength. His ‘weakness’ is his strength. Bommai belongs to the group of politicians that functions by portraying to never be a threat to anybody,” Professor Narendar Pani, political analyst and dean at the School of Social Sciences, National Institute of Advanced Studies, told ThePrint.
While Professor Pani agreed that the recent election results have indicated that there are problems, he added that there are no specific signs to suggest that Bommai would be replaced. “The BJP is very capable of repeating an Uttarakhand in Karnataka, but they don’t seem to have options,” he added.