Bengaluru: Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s announcement that the BJP will face the next assembly election in Karnataka under Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s leadership has ruffled many feathers in the ruling party, with senior leaders going public with their objections.
Former chief minister Jagdish Shettar and the Minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, K.S. Eshwarappa, have openly disagreed with Shah, saying the polls would be held under “collective leadership”, and suggesting that the issue of leadership in the next election isn’t settled just yet.
Shettar, who had refused to accept a ministerial berth in the Bommai cabinet insisting that it would hurt his “self-respect to be a minister in his junior’s cabinet”, made no secret of his opposition to the announcement.
“We will abide by what the party decides. But the elections are still far away. We have to see what happens when the election comes,” Shettar told the media Friday.
When The Print reached Shettar for his stance on the matter, he refused to respond.
Much like Shettar, Bommai is a Lingayat and also hails from the same district — Hubballi-Dharwad — making them direct contenders within the party.
K.S. Eshwarappa, another vocal BJP leader, told ThePrint that he was hoping for collective leadership.
“I am not contradicting Shah’s announcement but from my assessment of the situation in Karnataka, we need collective leadership. Leaders like B.S. Yediyurappa and I have built the party over four decades,” Eshwarappa said.
“We need Bommai’s leadership as CM, Nalin Kumar Kateel’s leadership as party president, B.S. Yediyurappa’s leadership as a mass leader. One person’s leadership will not suffice and that is all I am saying.”
He added that the BJP, albeit having emerged as the single largest party multiple times, has never received a full mandate in Karnataka and only a collective leadership can ensure that.
“But this is only my opinion. I will suggest the same to the party but will abide by what the party decides,” the minister said.
It has been a little over a month since Basavaraj Bommai took over the reins of Karnataka from B.S. Yediyurappa on 28 July, and Union Home Minister Amit Shah surprised many in the party with his public declaration of Bommai’s role in the assembly elections scheduled to take place in 2023.
“B.S. Yediyurappa voluntarily decided that someone new should be given the responsibility of Karnataka. BJP decided that Basavaraj Bommai should be given the responsibility and made him chief minister. I am fully confident that under Bommai’s leadership, BJP will return to power with a full mandate in Karnataka,” Shah declared at a public rally in Davangere Thursday.
Party insiders told ThePrint that Shah’s statement will put an end to speculation on whether Bommai will be allowed to stay in office for the remainder of his term.
The source of all the supposition is the fact that the last time B.S. Yediyurappa was forced to resign as chief minister in August 2011, D.V. Sadananda Gowda succeeded him to the top post. Gowda’s stint was, however, cut short with Jagadish Shettar then taking over as chief minister in July 2012.
‘Statement with clear intent’
Party insiders and political analysts told ThePrint that Shah’s remarks make it clear that Bommai is here to stay, and that the home minister’s statement came with much thought and clear intent.
“It was not an off-the-cuff remark. Amit Shah’s announcement is a clear message to the various factions developing within the state BJP that the party is firmly and consciously behind Bommai,” Dr Sandeep Shastri, political analyst and national coordinator of Lokniti Network, told ThePrint.
“It reinforces the point that Bommai is the choice of the central leadership and endorsed by B.S. Yediyurappa and not the other way around.”
Dr Shastri pointed out that the statement came at a time when Yediyurappa has announced that he would go on a statewide tour to “strengthen the party”.
Party insiders agree with the assessment.
“Shah’s intention could have been to suppress any disgruntlement, dissent brewing in the party over Bommai’s elevation as chief minister,” a senior office-bearer of the party who did not want to be identified told The Print.
“Perhaps a reminder to leaders and cadres to do their work and not worry about who is at the helm of affairs,” he added. “Whatever his reasons may be, I think, one month is too short a period to judge someone’s leadership.”
Many in the party also believe that Amit Shah’s endorsement of Bommai is a signal to the BJP old guard that it is time to make way for new leadership.
“Resistance by the likes of K.S. Eshwarappa or Jagadish Shettar is not understandable since they have completed their innings at the party. Nalin Kumar Kateel, as president of the state unit of the party, or C.T. Ravi as national general secretary or leaders like Arvind Limbavali or R. Ashok can express their opinions since they are the next circle of leaders,” said Lahar Singh Siroya, senior MLC and co-treasurer of BJP Karnataka.
“Since the party is looking for young faces everywhere, it is our duty to support the party’s decision,” he added.
The fallout or disgruntlement over the remarks, party leaders told ThePrint, is futile especially after a giant like Yediyurappa was convinced to toe the central leadership’s line.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)