Twin win
THE WEEK|August 08, 2021
Basavaraj Bommai, with his Lingayat link and connect with Yediyurappa, was BJP’s safest pick for chief ministership
PRATHIMA NANDAKUMAR

I am just first among equals, said Basavaraj Bommai, who was sworn in as the 30th chief minister of Karnataka on July 28. The 61-year-old Lingayat leader from north Karnataka clinched the top post from a clutch of contenders.

The BJP ensured a smooth and swift transition within 30 hours of its poster boy and Lingayat strongman Yediyurappa announcing his decision to step down as chief minister. Bommai’s anointment was undoubtedly a strategy to placate the politically influential Lingayat community that accounts for 17 per cent of the state’s population. The Veerashaiva-Lingayat community pontiffs, who were miffed with the BJP for dethroning Yediyurappa, can now find solace in his confidant occupying the top seat.

Bommai is the son of former chief minister S.R. Bommai, who, along with J.H. Patel, H.D. Deve Gowda and Ramakrishna Hegde, founded the Janata Party. Bommai grew up in a joint family in Deshpande Nagar, Hubballi, did his schooling from Rotary School, mechanical engineering from BVB college and underwent technical training at Telco, Pune.

Bommai dreamt of becoming an industrialist, but dived into politics, becoming political secretary to chief minister Patel in 1996. He also won two terms as a legislative councillor in 1998 and 2004 from Dharwad local authorities’ constituency. He lost the 2004 assembly elections from Hubli Rural (now Hubballi-Dharwad Central) to BJP’s Jagadish Shettar. In 2007, he took part in the 232km-long farmers’ padayatra from Dharwad to Naragund. He joined the BJP in 2008. He has won the Shiggaon seat in Haveri district for three consecutive terms.

Given his background, Bommai’s move to the BJP was surprising. His late father was a follower of Marxist-turned-radical humanist M.N Roy, but Bommai, also a voracious reader, chose the public life inspired by socialist Jayaprakash Narayan. He belongs to the Sadar Lingayat sect. He is a moderate leader like his mentor Yediyurappa in the right-wing party. But it is his father he looks up to the most. “My father was a principled politician and I will walk in his footsteps,” said Bommai.

His nuanced understanding of the irrigation sector and his previous stint as water resources minister (2008-2013) in the first BJP government is bound to benefit the state which is entangled in many legal battles with its neighbouring states over river water sharing (Krishna and Mahadayi rivers) or the Mekedatu reservoir project in the Cauvery basin with Tamil Nadu.

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