Dakshina Kannada murder fallout puts Bommai’s future as CM in doubt

Despite having only eight months left in his tenure, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai is in danger of being ousted on account of an orchestrated effort by a section of the BJP in the wake of the murder of a 32-year-old leader of the party’s youth organisation in the Dakshina Kannada region on July 26.

A section of the BJP has started a campaign against Bommai on social media groups and through affiliate organisations such as the BJP Yuva Morcha, with which Praveen Nettaru, who was murdered, was associated. This has created a situation for the BJP leadership to consider Bommai’s continuance as CM an untenable option ahead of the 2023 Assembly polls, said well-placed sources in the party.

Since July 27, when BJP state president Nalin Kumar Kateel and state minister Sunil Kumar Karkala were heckled by workers of Hindutva groups in Dakshina Kannada during their visit to Nettaru’s home, a campaign has been afoot to use the murder of the BJP youth worker to underline the need for a tough CM and remove Bommai, said BJP insiders.

A resignation campaign by BJYM leaders, a viral video of BJYM president Tejasvi Surya telling Morcha workers that he would have been the first to throw stones had a Congress government been in power, bombarding of internal BJP social media groups with messages of 700-plus office bearers quitting over the murder, and the storming of the house of state home minister Araga Jnanendra by ABVP activists are being seen in a section of the party as an indirect campaign to oust Bommai.

The BJP leadership was forced to seek the cancellation of the Bommai government’s first-year celebrations on July 28 following a nudge from party president JP Nadda. A section of the party portrayed the murder and its aftermath as being serious enough for the government not to highlight the governance achievements of the past three years.

“It is quite clear now that a section of the party is taking advantage of the situation to push its own agenda to gain control of the government. It is not that the Bommai administration has been free of allegations of corruption and misgovernance. But the present situation is being used internally for the ouster of Bommai,” said a BJP source.

Since he took over as CM a year ago, Bommai has faced the possible threat of change for nearly 10 months. But, he has managed to stay on by following the line drawn for him by the BJP high command and due to the lack of a viable alternative, given Karnataka’s caste matrix.

Although Bommai was not the first choice of the BJP high command to be the CM, he managed to land the position on account of his equations with former CM BS Yediyurappa and a section of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP that was in his favour. The BJP leadership may also now use the current situation to bring in a candidate of its own, said party sources.

“The BJP may not affect a change of the CM immediately but it could come over the coming days. An immediate change will be seen in the background of the situation created by the murders in Dakshina Kannada,” said sources in the BJP.

The Karnataka CM’s remarks that he would adopt the model of UP CM Yogi Adityanath if necessary to control violence is being seen as an effort to cast himself as a leader capable of taking tough measures and a step to protect himself against the plans to oust him.

State minister Dr CN Ashwathnarayan last week said the state government was ready to go “five steps ahead” of the Yogi government to carry out encounters to tackle crimes. His comment and that of Surya are being seen as an indirect attack on Bommai’s tenure over which a cloud has hung for several months.

In April, senior BJP leader and organisation secretary BL Santhosh, who is from Karnataka, created a stir by stating at a party meeting that the BJP is in a position to execute major changes in governments and the party.

“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,” the BJP leader said.

The remarks, which came ahead of a visit by BJP leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, were seen as an indication of a change of the Karnataka CM on the lines of the Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani in 2020. But Bommai managed to hang on and has, in recent weeks, managed to shake off the doubts that previously hung over his tenure lasting its full term till April 2023.

Meanwhile, there is also doubt about whether Nalin Kumar Kateel will continue as state BJP chief. His tenure ends on August 8. Sources in the BJP said Kateel’s future at the helm of the state unit was under question because of widespread anger among party workers in Dakshina Kannada.

“There seems to be a close link between the incidents occurring in Dakshina Kannada and the internal conflicts in the Sangh Parivar,”’ Congress leader and former CM Siddaramaiah said on social media two days ago.

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