In what will come as a much-needed breather for him, a two-day BJP state executive committee meeting that ended on Wednesday rallied behind Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, with sources saying a warning was issued against encouraging speculation that he was to be removed.
The vote of confidence for Bommai comes amidst open calls by BJP leaders for change at the top, and Bommai himself saying in a tearful outburst last week that nothing was permanent. Brought in as a replacement for veteran B S Yeddiyurappa in July, Bommai, a former JD(S) leader, is considered a stop-gap by the many power centres in the state unit – the message being that the BJP will not go with him as its face for the 2023 Assembly elections.
The CM’s position was further weakened after the BJP lost the bypoll from Hangal in his home district in November.
Minister of Large and Medium Industries Murugesh Nirani recently said Bommai was all set to move to the Centre as Union minister, like his father (S R Bommai). Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister K S Eshwarappa said Nirani himself would be the next CM. Though Nirani rushed to clarify that Bommai would lead the BJP, by then rumours regarding the CM’s removal had got fresh wind.
Other leaders suggested in private that Bommai’s days were numbered. One said, “The void Yediyurappa has left in the BJP and among Lingayats can’t be filled by Bommai. Factions within the party have directly or indirectly expressed their displeasure.” Another leader said, “When a strong mass leader such as Yediyurappa was replaced by Bommai, the impression that went out among BJP leaders was that they also had a shot at the post. A few of them are making serious attempts to get the attention of the high command.” Names that started doing the rounds as possible replacements included Jagadish Shettar and Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, apart from Nirani.
Then word got around that a knee problem was likely to put Bommai out of action, with pictures surfacing on social media of him taking Ayurvedic treatment. Some reports said he would be flying out of the country for treatment.
Given his socialist background, Bommai has been trying to bolster his Hindutva credentials so as to strengthen his position within the BJP, tacitly justifying moral policing incidents, introducing the anti-conversion Bill, and promising to free temples from government control.
Ahead of the state executive meeting, the central BJP first tried to set the record straight. National general secretary in-charge of Karnataka Arun Singh said the BJP will fight the 2023 Assembly elections under Bommai’s leadership.
A changed man from last week, Bommai has now come out and asserted that he will remain CM till the Assembly elections. “I have the energy and inspiration to work tirelessly, without rest, all 365 days of the year,” he said Tuesday.
“The central leadership has reposed faith in me,” Bommai added. “The BJP believes in teamwork. There is good coordination between the government and the party.”
The state executive meeting was attended by Arun Singh, apart from Union Minister Pralhad Joshi and other leaders.
Asked if the state executive committee’s statement was an endorsement of him, he said: “It is kind of a reconfirmation.”
Incidentally, the state executive meeting made news for another reason: Yediyurappa’s absence. On Tuesday, he tweeted a photo of himself from Dubai Expo 2020. Sources said he and his family were in Dubai on the invitation of the Kannada Sangha.
Playing down Yediyurappa’s absence, Pralhad Joshi said: “Yediyurappa had a prior commitment to travel. There is no norm that all leaders must participate in the executive meeting. Nothing much should be read into it.”
However, the dust on the meeting had barely settled when MLA and Bommai’s political secretary M P Renukacharya came out with an intriguing statement saying most legislators in the party expected a “Gujarat-like overhaul” of the Karnataka Cabinet, and urged those who have been ministers multiple times to make way for fresh faces. He added though, “There will 100% be no change in the CM, Bommai will continue.”