Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai was reminded of a couple of things by the Opposition in the state before he set out on July 28 to meet the bereaved family of a BJP youth leader murdered in Dakshina Kannada district – also the day that marked the first anniversary of his tenure as CM.
One of the things he was reminded of was his October 2021 justification for a vigilante form of justice prevalent in the district, favoured by both right-wing Hindutva groups and radical Islamic elements in the communally polarised region.
Playing to the Hindutva gallery on a visit to Mangaluru in October 2021 — in the aftermath of a moral policing incident, where a group of Hindutva vigilantes had attacked two Hindu women for socialising with a Muslim couple — Bommai had described the crime as a mere reaction over hurt sentiments.
“When sentiments are hurt, there will normally be action and reaction. The responsibility of the government apart from maintaining law and order is to preserve social harmony. Everyone must cooperate. Some youths need to ensure that the sentiments of their society are not hurt,” the CM had stated.
In the months after that statement, right-wing Hindutva groups seemed to get more active, taking on Muslims on various private and cultural issues like wearing of the hijab in government schools and colleges, sale of halal meat, and the selling of merchandise by Muslims at temple festivals. There were also attacks on places of Christian worship, citing forced religious conversions.
Bommai was mute on these issues until industry leader Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw questioned discriminatory practices being allowed to creep into civil society. Consequently, in March 2022, the CM seemed to temper his views. “We have been living with our beliefs on various issues over the years. Karnataka is known for peace and progress. Everyone should show restraint. It is possible to resolve social issues through talks,” he said.
The second thing that Bommai was reminded of ahead of his visit to Mangaluru on July 28 was the fact that, apart from BJP youth leader Praveen Nettaru, an 18-year-old Muslim youth had also been killed in the district on July 19. Congress MLA Priyank Kharge said the CM must also visit the Muslim family. He did not.
Since then, Bommai has ordered the NIA to take over the probe into the murder of the BJP youth leader. While eight people have been arrested for the July 19 killing of Masood B, two have been held for the murder of Nettaru. Arrests are yet to be made for the July 28 murder of another Muslim youth, Mohammed Fazil, in the district, believed to be linked to the first two incidents.
Since Bommai was picked as the surprise choice to replace B S Yediyurappa by the BJP, his has been a tough ride. Schooled in socialist politics until 2008, when he was brought to the BJP by Yediyurappa, he has been trying to cater to the right-wing ideology that motors the political engine of the BJP, to consolidate his position in the faction-ridden state unit.
Unlike Yediyurappa, whose popular base perhaps lent him the moral courage to push back when he felt the Hindutva agenda would get in the way of the larger interests of the state, the politically weak Bommai has bent to the twists and turns of Hindutva pressure.
Ironically, in wake of the latest spate of killings in Dakshina Kannada, Bommai is facing accusations of not being radical enough from Hindutva groups – forcing that startling remark from him of contemplating “a Yogi (Adityanath) model of government”.
Ahead of his Mangaluru visit, Bommai said: “The situation in UP is different and Yogi is the apt person for the state. To control the state of Karnataka, different measures are needed and we are deploying all the measures. If the situation arises, then the Yogi model of government will also be deployed.”
Even among BJP CMs, he is perhaps the first to come up with such a statement.
In doing that, Bommai was repeating the chorus from right-wing voices on social media to emulate the Uttar Pradesh CM, specifically talking of their admiration for his use of bulldozers to raze premises of suspected criminals.
It seemed an extreme reaction from the CM, already on the defensive after reports emerged of Muslim youths accused in the murder of a right-wing Hindutva worker earlier this year in Shivamogga accessing cellphones in prison.
The Opposition reaction has been swift, with the Congress and JD(S) warning that “the Yogi model” would lead the state away from the path of the Constitution to the path of destruction.
“I am shocked by the fact that Basavaraj Bommai, the son of S R Bommai, who was a Royist (follower of M N Roy), is talking in favour of unconstitutional measures like using bulldozers. Those who do not believe in the Constitution will deviate from the path of the Constitution. A pro-people man has become a pro-Parivar person,” former CM and JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy said Friday.
Bommai was hiding his own “incapabilities” with such statements, he said. “UP should not be a model for Karnataka or any other state. To consider a state that does not believe in the principles of natural justice and Constitution as an example to emulate, is the beginning of the path to destruction.”
Former CM and Congress leader Siddaramaiah said: “Bommai has no control over his government or party. To protect his chair, he has been dancing like a puppet to the demands of the RSS. He is not just the CM of one community, but the whole state. He should show as much interest in tracking down killers behind all the murders in the region, irrespective of the community.”
In response, Bommai accused the Opposition of following a “dual policy”. “On the one hand they want action and, on the other, they say strict action should not be taken. Why are they afraid?” the CM said. “For us, all incidents are equal and the lives of all people are important. We want to take strict action in all cases.”
He refused to elaborate on what he meant by “the Yogi model”, though claiming action would be within the law. “I will not explain anything now. As and when required, whatever is necessary within the framework of the law, we will do… It could be the UP model or the Karnataka model.”
However, more than anything else, Bommai’s reaction reinforces the impression of a CM only too eager to acquiesce, unable to take a stand, and now weakened further by allegations of corruption, even if these have not touched him so far.