Determined to deny the BJP a majority in the Karnataka House yet nervous that their own may be poached, leaders of the Congress and JD(S) made their newly elected MLAs board buses for the overnight journey from Bengaluru to Kochi in Kerala where they plan to stay till the floor test.
The MLAs, sources said, would check into the Crowne Plaza in Kochi. The Congress and JD(S) had drawn plans to fly them to Kochi on board chartered aircraft but when that didn’t work out, leaders decided not to wait and asked the MLAs to board the buses for the 550-km journey.
JD(S) spokesperson Kunwar Danish Ali said: “Three flights were to arrive in Bengaluru from Hyderabad to take Congress and JD(S) MLAs to Kochi. However, the planes were denied permission. No reason was given. The MLAs will now travel aboard buses to Kochi.”
With the two parties claiming that permission had been denied to the aircraft, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation clarified late Thursday that no permit was required from the regulator to operate charter flights in India.
In a text response to a query sent by The Indian Express, Director General of Civil Aviation B S Bhullar said: “For operation of charter flights within India, operators do not require any permission from DGCA.”
On April 19, less than a month before Karnataka went to polls, the DGCA amended the norms for air charter operations, putting the onus on accountable managers of all operators and the civil aviation department of state governments undertaking VIP or election flights to ensure compliance of rules and requirements for charter operations.
For the Congress, the first signs of worry began 4 pm Thursday. Hours after B S Yeddyurappa was sworn in as Chief Minister, the police security detail outside the Eagleton golf resort, where 76 Congress MLAs were holed up, was withdrawn and the local Superintendent of Police transferred.
Last year, the Congress had used the same resort to guard 44 MLAs from Gujarat before the Rajya Sabha polls.
No cars were allowed in without “clearance” and even guests at the resort were asked to prove their credentials. With no policemen outside, the Congress turned to the resort security detail and an army of party workers to enforce access control. And the going was not easy.
A Congress functionary, who did not wish to be named, said the state leadership had given him the right to refuse entry to Congress leaders not cleared and, more importantly, stop MLAs inside from leaving the resort.
“It has not been easy. Many leaders hate me now. I have had to refuse entry to senior district and block presidents and even some former MLAs. But this is party work and right now, without police, it is very important,” he said.
At 1.30 pm, Humnabad MLA Rajshekhar Patil tried to leave and was stopped by police at the gate. Patil insisted that he needed to go to hospital, but was politely turned back. Fifteen minutes of phone calls and a visit by Congress leaders later, Patil was allowed to leave.
“They wanted to talk to me about some things, so I waited for them. I have some health problems and need to visit the hospital,” Patil said. Over two hours after he left, so did the deployed policemen.
Another Congress leader, who left the resort at 5 pm, said: “We are all together. There is no problem. There are some attempts to communicate with our MLAs, so we have to maintain some discipline. At present, there are 76 MLAs inside.”
The Congress was still to trace Vijayanagar MLA and mining baron Anand Singh. Sources said that party leaders were talking to Singh’s relative who was at the resort.
At the Shangri-la 37 km away, all JD (S) MLAs met at the banquet hall. “We are only chalking out strategy, nothing else. We are a strong unit, nobody can break us,” a party leader said. Unlike the Congress which had to enforce security at the resort, the JD (S) appeared more confident.
“For JD (S), this is an ideological decision. We are confident about our MLAs. See, there is no security or anything here,” said V Byrappa, a member of the JD (S) legal cell. “It was a difficult decision initially, because we campaigned against the Congress, but our (H D) Kumaraswamy will become CM and we also have the numbers.”— With Pranav Mukul in New Delhi