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Mainstream, VOL LX No 35 New Delhi, August 20, 2022

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s one year in office | P S Jayaramu

Friday 19 August 2022

by P. S. Jayaramu

(5th August, 2022)

Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai has recently completed one year in office. Evaluation of his regime are going on. The government is trumpeting its achievements in various fields through advertisements. The Opposition Parties are doing their job by highlighting the government’s failures. It is time to analyze the Bommai government’s performance in the political, economic and social spheres.

The Basavaraj Bommai government came to power in July 2021 to replace the government of B. S. Yediyurappa who had come to power through ‘operation kamala’ by attracting several Congress and JD(S) MLAsto the BJP fold. Prime minister Narendra Modi took the decision to annoint Bommai as the chief minister, even though there was competition among a few senior party leaders for the chief ministerial post. There were many explanations for that decision during those days. Among them, Bommai’s successful role in bringing back Yediyurappa from KJP to BJP is supposed to have pleased Narendra Modi to gift the chief ministerial ‘gaddi’ to him. The fact that Basavaraj Bommai had held the home minister’s portfolio in the Yediyurappa cabinet and that Yediyurappa had almost made it a condition to the BJP high command that one of his loyalists, which included Bommai, should be made the chief minister after his exit from office must have also worked in favour of Bommai.

Against the above background, it would be useful to judge how has Basavaraj Bommai fared during the last one year. Politically and electorally speaking, Bommai’s performance has been lacklustre. Under his leadership, the Party has lost several by-elections. Notable among such failures was the by-election in his home constituency itself. That was followed by the loss in Belagavi where the Party insider and former minister Ramesh Jarkiholi worked against the party candidate. As is commonly known, these defeats caused considerable dissatisfaction and apprehension in the Party high command. It is well known that compared to Yediyurappa, Bommai is not a mass leader and is not held in high regard among the lingayat politicians and electorate throughout the state. Though Bommai is a well educated and sauve politician with considerable political experience, he lacks the charisma and the oratorical skills which are clear political assets needed to bring about electoral dividends to the party. He also does not enjoy the loyalty of many seniors within the party within the state. Yatnal, Bellad and Murugesh Nirani, not to speak of the former chief minister Jagdeesh Shettar, all hailing from the northern Karnataka region, have not accepted Bommai as their leader, leave alone experienced leaders hailing from south interior Karnataka. These hard realities are a cause for worry to the central leadership of the BJP, as the state faces assembly elections within the span of an year in the state. Yediyurappa’s level of involvement in the election campaign may depend upon how many of his loyalists are going to get tickets. That Yediyurappa is going to be a strong factor in the Party’s electoral politics explains the reason behind home minister Amit Shah’s separate meetings with Bommai and Yediyurappa during his recent visit to Bengaluru. Yediyurappa is reported to have appraised Amit Shah about the challenges from the Congress Party in the aftermath of the birth bash ( ‘Siddaramotstava’) in Davanagere recently where lakhs of people had congregated as a show of strength.

In the economic field, government’s publicity blitz notwithstanding, the achievements of the Bommai government are below par. The overall revenue of the state during 2021-22 was only 0.1 per cent higher than the previous year. The GSDP was only ₹18,03,609 crore as against ₹17,02,227 crore. The industrial sector, specially the medium and small scale industries (MSMEs) have suffered considerable losses in the last one year, following the negative consequences of Covid-19 on the economic sector. Although the state is ahead in the IT exports and tax collection, the government’s debt burden is 4.6 lakh crore. As stated by the Chief Minister himself, the government is expected to borrow 72000 crores in 2022-23. The debt burden, which was put at 78000 crores by the CAG, will increase to 27.5 per cent, as against the 25 per cent fixed by the 14th Central Finance Commission. Additionally, as the leader of the Opposition, Siddaramaiah has been pointing out, the state government has fallen behind in getting its share of the GST revenues from the central government. It is really unfortunate that Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman who is representing Karnataka in the Rajya Sabha is not being fair to the State. Equally disturbing is the fact that the Bommai government has not been exerting pressure on the Union finance minister in this regard, despite the CM occupying an important position in the GST Council.

Socially, it is ironic that the ’achievement’ of Basavaraj Bommai, in the State which is traditionally known for maintaining peace and communal harmony lies in polarising the state and society to push forward the BJP/ RSS Hindutva ideology. It is ironic that Basavaraj Bommai with his past socialist credentials has surrendered himself to the hard-line forces within his party, unlike his predecessor B. S. Yediyurappa who is credited to have maintained communal harmony. The Bommai government’s objective seems to be to aggressively pursue its communal agenda as manifested in recent months on the issues of hijab, halal, and the brazen manner in which it is saffronising the school curricula. The recent murder of BJP Yuva Morcha Executive Committee member Praveen Nettaru, the anger of the party’s youth wing and Chief Minister Bommai’s announcement that his government would use the ’Yogi model’ for the maintenance of law and order and a senior minister’s provocative statement about ’encounter killing’s hold a mirror to the communal politics under way. Chakravarti Sulibele, one of the prominent social personalities belonging the BJP, has openly criticised the rampent corruption going on under the present dispensation and wondered aloud as to why the party workers (and the larger electorate) have to vote the government back to power. His statement has caused jitters in the party and government.

Looking at the above developments, it is clear that the Bommai government’s larger design is to win the 2023 legislative assembly elections by aggressively advancing the Hindutva agenda. However, Karnataka’s secular credentials, religious tolerance and the manner in which the electorate are suffering on account of unemployment, rising prices of essential commodities, tha anti-incumbency factor and the determined manner in which the Congress, as the main Opposition Party, is preparing itself to capture power is likely to pose tough challenges to the Basavaraj Bommai’s desire to retain power in 2023. Electoral issues apart, I wonder whether Bommai has ever pondered over how history would judge him.

(Author: P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University, and a former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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