Temples to be 'freed': K'taka CM Basavaraj Bommai walks on a razor’s edge

Implementing the agenda of RSS is important for Bommai, a former socialist and the fourth chief minister since 2018, in order to survive in the BJP

CM Bommai at the Kashi Vishwanath temple with his wife
CM Bommai at the Kashi Vishwanath temple with his wife

Naheed Ataulla

Karnataka has 1.80 lakh plus Hindu temples of which 34,563 are under the Muzrai department. The Karnataka chief minister has, however, embarked upon freeing the temples from state control, an agenda vigorously pursued by the RSS.

Not all BJP insiders are happy though. “All states have retained either the management of temples or a supervisory role over temples, but Karnataka will be the first state to undo it. Why this sudden move which will encourage vested interests to enter? Even the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam is with the government and managed by a board,’’ one of them exclaimed.

Six months after he took over as Chief Minister, the fourth to do so since 2018, Karnataka’s Basavaraj Bommai has made more news for pushing the Hindutva agenda. From getting the New Education Policy and the AntiConversion Bill passed in the Legislative Assembly in the midst of protests to his justification of Right Wing moral policing, Bommai’s transition from a moderate socialist to a hard core ‘saffronist’ has surprised even BJP hardliners.

Joining the BJP from JD(U) in 2008, Bommai was not seen as an eager beaver wanting to soak in the saffron party’s ideology. His father, former chief minister S.R. Bommai, was a follower of Leftist M.N. Roy and Bommai Junior imbibed the socialist principles. He served as political secretary to former chief minister J.H. Patel, a staunch socialist, before jumping ship to the BJP.

In the BJP, he was content to remain a close confidant of former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, got key portfolios of home and water resources but did not follow the Lingayat strongman when the latter severed his 40 years’ association with the BJP to launch the Karnataka Janata Paksha in 2012. Two years later, Bommai to an extent was instrumental in getting Yediyurappa back into the party.

His statements on moral policing or implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Karnataka were seen in keeping with the BJP-RSS agenda. However, his justification of moral policing while pleasing Right Wing activists, caused embarrassment in BJP circles with a lawyers’ body threatening legal action against him.

Responding to increasing incidents of moral policing in the coastal region and a BJP MLA receiving the accused at a police station after they were granted bail, he had said: “When moral values in society diminish, there would be action and reaction.” Former CM Siddaramaiah in a tweet wondered, “Whenever women are subjected to moral policing henceforth, can the people of Karnataka assume that you are the true reason for the crime?’’

In 2021, when the National Education Policy was being debated, Karnataka became the first state in the country to implement it followed by Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. With the Congress dubbing it as ‘Nagpur Education Policy’, Bommai responded by saying, “Nation, nationalism and RSS are the same. RSS means nationalism. There is nothing wrong if NEP is an RSS agenda. Your (Congress) party people are foreigners. So do you want a foreign education policy, Macaulay’s education system of slavery?”

Why is Bommai playing the Hindutva card? BJP’s decision to replace B.S. Yediyurappa in July 2021 came as a surprise. There is no BJP leader other than Yediurappa with a pan Karnataka connection but the party’s central leadership was scouting for just a Lingayat face.

The CM, who turns 62 on January 28, is yet to gain acceptability among legislators despite Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s endorsement that Bommai would lead the BJP in the assembly elections in 2023.

Making his electoral debut from the Legislative Council, Bommai has been representing Shiggaon assembly constituency in Haveri district since 2008. According to political observers, Bommai has not been able to grow beyond his constituency and many are sceptical of his political prospects after BJP fared poorly in the recent by-polls and local body elections.

He is also under pressure following charges of corruption including the Bitcoin scam in which senior BJP leaders and officials are said to be involved. A section of contractors have also petitioned the Prime Minister saying they have to give 40% commission to get projects cleared.

Many BJP legislators are unhappy over delays in expanding and revamping the cabinet, which too has led to talks of another change of the the CM. The change of guard speculation was fuelled by Bommai himself, when addressing a meeting in his constituency, he declared, “No post, position is permanent.’’

“With his own legislators upset and lacking a mass base, his only survival strategy is to keep the BJP-RSS bosses happy with the Hindutva card,’’ sums up a senior BJP legislator.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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