Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, in his meeting with BJP top brass in New Delhi, was told that the Halal meat and hijab rows may win some votes, but the government must focus on implementing budgetary proposals and infrastructure projects to ‘keep the focus on development’, reports said.
Indian Express said in its report that it was iterated in the meeting that the state BJP unit is set to undergo a complete overhaul, and that early elections are unlikely.
The report also quoted sources as saying that the embattled CM was told that a long-awaited Cabinet reshuffle would take place soon after the national leadership approved the list he submitted to the central leadership.
The changes are expected to be finalised during the April 12-24 visits to Karnataka of BJP national general secretary in-charge of the state Arun Singh and party chief J P Nadda (April 16-17), the report said, adding that Nadda’s visit coincides with the state executive meeting in Vijayanagara’s Hospet.
The central leadership, which includes both Nadda and Home Minister Amit Shah, has ruled out bringing forward the elections, which are scheduled for May 2023, as some leaders have suggested, the report quoted sources as saying. “Instead, they suggested that the party restructure itself, while the government, following the reshuffle, must focus on governance aspects,” a source said, adding that among the projects Bommai was told to focus on were irrigation works in order to win back farmers who were dissatisfied with the state government.
A senior party leader and Karnataka MP was quoted as saying that the approach was consistent with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s position that the BJP should seek a mandate with a good development report card.
“The national leaders have made it clear to the CM that the controversies over hijab and halal meat, as well as other issues aimed at minorities, may help the party consolidate hardcore Hindu votes in some pockets, but for the party to return to power, we must have a solid performance record,” they said.
“The PM is very particular that the BJP’s main election plank should be development and progress of the state,” a national office-bearer said.
The group advocating for early elections believed that the BJP’s recent poll victories, as well as the atmosphere created by the hijab and halal controversies, gave the party an advantage. “Some leaders wanted Karnataka to hold elections alongside Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh” (which go to polls later this year). “However, the national leadership was not on board,” a source was quoted as saying.
Bommai, for his part, is thought to have expressed his “dilemma” over controversial remarks made by leaders on contentious issues, at a time when he has consistently stated that his government would follow court orders after taking everyone into confidence.
BJP national general secretary CT Ravi had said the Halal meat is part of “economic jihad” by the Muslim community. He even said when Muslims refuse to buy non-Halal meat from Hindus, “why should you insist Hindus to buy from them?”
A party MP was quoted in the report as saying that the public stance and statements by some senior leaders had made things difficult for the CM, “disrupting the governance process.”
Nadda, who had previously directed state leaders not to make public comments on the hijab issue while the case was in court, is among the central leaders who have expressed their displeasure with such remarks.
As part of the development push, there will be a series of inaugurations and foundation laying ceremonies in the state in the coming days, which Modi will be visiting frequently.
The state unit has been directed to concentrate its efforts in northern Karnataka, an area where the BJP has long held sway but where discontent among cadre and leaders is growing, the report said, adding that there had been reports of BJP legislators considering switching parties.
The state unit was also warned not to rely too heavily on “the internal conflict and feud between Karnataka Congress president D K Shivakumar and former chief minister Siddaramaiah,” according to the national office-bearer.