Nine months after he took charge, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai is fielding rumours of his replacement following a string of controversies that the ruling BJP fears may impact the party in the 2023 state polls. BJP sources have ruled out any dramatic change for now.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit to state capital Bengaluru today has added to the speculation.
Mr Bommai is expected to expand his cabinet soon. A BJP leader’s comment over the weekend triggered the buzz about his possible exit.
The BJP leadership has the courage and strength to implement wholesale changes in state leaderships, the party’s national organising secretary BL Santhosh had said, citing local polls in Delhi and Gujarat.
“I am not saying that this will happen everywhere, but the BJP is able to make decisions that cannot even be envisaged by other political parties. Due to the confidence and will in the party, these decisions are possible, and in Gujarat, when the Chief Minister was changed, the entire Cabinet was also changed. This was done with the intent to infuse freshness and not because of any complaints,” Mr Santhosh was quoted by the Indian Express as saying.
He also said in politics, change is imminent. “It is not an easy task to come to power for the second time. Those who are here in attendance know the challenge of winning elections the second time. Anti-incumbency becomes much stronger,” added Mr Santhosh.
His comments led to reports that Karnataka was up for another change less than a year after Mr Bommai replaced BS Yediyurappa.
Mr Bommai has not reacted to the comments, but he is reportedly prepping for a reshuffle in the next two weeks.
Sources close to the Chief Minister say the buzz has been “created” by those angling for ministries in the cabinet expansion. Changing Basavaraj Bommai would be a big risk at this time for the party after long instability in this state.
Some reports – unconfirmed – talk about a Gujarat-style “clean-up” in Karnataka. Last September, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and his entire cabinet quit to make way for a new team ahead of elections in the state later this year.
Despite suggestions of a “Gujarat Model”, the party understands that Karnataka is no Gujarat. “The party structure is different here. A big chunk of BJP MLAs in Karnataka won elections, either as candidates of the Janata Dal (Secular) or Congress. The BJP leadership might be reworking strategies as aspirants within the party who are jockeying for positions,” said political analyst Sandeep Shastri.
Mr Bommai’s government has been on the defensive over many flashpoints in recent weeks.
The row over the state government’s ban on hijabs in class was still raging when rightwing groups started a campaign against the sale of “Halal meat” and protests against loudspeakers at religious places became loud.
With the suicide of a contractor, who accused a minister of demanding kickbacks in his last WhatsApp messages to the media and his friends, the Karnataka government’s image has taken a big hit.