BENGALURU: Basavaraj Bommai was sworn in as the 23rd chief minister of Karnataka on Wednesday, bringing down the curtains on weeks of uncertainty over leadership in the state, and paving the way for BJP to buckle down ahead of the 2023 assembly elections.
Clad in a standard cotton kurta and draped in a pinkish-saffron silk shawl, the 61-year-old leader was accompanied to the ceremony at Raj Bhavan’s Glass House by his family members but the overwhelming presence was that of BS Yediyurappa, underscoring his continued importance in BJP.
Keen to dispel any impression that the former CM would be backseat-driving his government, Bommai categorically said: “I will not be a rubber stamp CM.” While he would seek Yediyurappa’s counsel and draw on his expertise, Bommai added, he would work to get the “stamp of approval from the people”.
This, as hordes of party men made a beeline to Yediyurappa’s house to lobby for ministerial berths on Wednesday in an early indicator of where the centre of power rests. On cue, BY Vijayendra, Yediyurappa’s younger son, announced “I will no longer be called a Super CM”, in a reference to such barbs aimed at him during his father’s dispensation.
Earlier in the day, Bommai offered prayers at Bhagavan Sri Maruthi Temple and called on the former CM at his house and sought his blessing before heading to Raj Bhavan. Following the example of his predecessor and mentor, he later held a one-man cabinet meeting with top officials and announced a slew of populist welfare schemes.
This includes a scholarship programme for farmers’ children at a cost of Rs 1,000 crore. “It’s going to help students from agrarian families to pursue higher education,” the chief minister said.
Pension for widows and financial assistance for disabled will be increased from Rs 600 to Rs 800 monthly at an additional cost of Rs 504 crore. This will benefit 17 lakh widows and 4 lakh disabled people. “Old age pension under Sandhya Suraksha scheme will be increased from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,200 at an additional cost of Rs 864 crore, helping 36 lakh people,” Bommai said.
These measures have been taken, considering inflation. “Our government will reach out to sections of society which need social security,” the new CM said. He also added in the same breath that maintaining fiscal discipline through efficient utilisation of resources and reducing expenditure, given the Covid-induced financial crunch, will be a priority.
“I have stressed inter-departmental coordination, teamwork and time-bound implementation of schemes to avoid corruption and to cut down on unnecessary expenditure by 5%,” he said.
Bommai’s next big challenge will be to expand his cabinet. “I am going to Delhi on Friday to meet the BJP brass, including PM Narendra Modi, and will discuss all issues, and seek their suggestion,” he said. Asked if he would wait for the month of ‘Ashada’ to pass before undertaking the expansion, he said: “I won’t take too much time because I need a complete team to do the work, amid Covid and floods.”