In a meeting with then Congress chief Rahul Gandhi on June 19, former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah reportedly conveyed that Congress MLAs were growing disconcerted with the JD(S) alliance in Karnataka.
Around the same time, a group of MLAs from Bengaluru considered Siddaramaiah loyalists held a breakfast meeting with a young Congress MLA known to be disgruntled — like them — over being denied berths in the state Cabinet. Congress sources said rebels asked the young MLA to join them to exert pressure or join the BJP.
One of the MLAs, according to Congress sources aware of the breakfast meeting, was S T Somashekhar, who is among 16 coalition rebels whose resignations on July 6 plunged the alliance into crisis. The resignations, if accepted, will mean the Congress-JD(S) government will lose majority in the 224-member House.
The pressure group of rebel MLAs that has emerged since July 6 did not feature the young Congress MLA, but it did include at least nine other legislators considered loyal to Siddaramaiah.
And as the coalition totters on the brink of collapse, the Congress’s central leadership and Siddaramaiah, its mainline popular leader in the state, seem to be working at cross purposes — one to preserve the coalition and the other to dismantle it in its current form with JD(S) in the driver’s seat.
A bete noire of the former PM H D Devegowda’s clan, Siddaramaiah quit the JD(S) in 2006 to join the Congress, and the ignominy of having to bow before his rival and Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy has been apparent since the coalition took shape in May 2018.
Siddaramaiah believed that the BJP, which emerged the single largest party without a clear majority, would forge an alliance with the JD(S) and, in the bargain, finish the regional party over time.
In his meeting with Gandhi, Siddaramaiah also reportedly conveyed to him that the alliance had hurt the Congress in the Lok Sabha polls, where the Congress and JD(S) won just one seat each of 28 while the BJP swept 25 seats.
Indirectly, Siddaramaiah suggested to Gandhi that it was time to pull out of the coalition or change the power equation which was heavily stacked in favour of the JD(S) despite the numbers —the Congress had 79 MLAs compared to the 37 for the JD(S).
Siddaramaiah has denied that he sought to end the alliance. “I cannot reply to rumours. I have not stated anything and neither has Rahul Gandhi,” he had said.
However, after the meeting, JD(S) national president H D Devegowda told his party to prepare for mid-term polls and worked his connections in the Congress to ensure the tie-up did not end abruptly.
While there have been festering issues on governance between the allies over the past year, the exact trigger for the current crisis which threatens to end the coalition is unclear.
Congress insiders refer to an ongoing police investigation into the IMA group ponzi scheme. Several top Congress leaders are linked to Mohammed Mansoor Khan, the absconding founder of the IMA Group, accused of cheating over 45,000 investors of funds to the tune of Rs 1,000 crore.
An SIT probing the case issued notices to Congress leader Roshan Baig, who was suspended in May for anti-party activities. He joined the Congress rebels on July 6.
Among the issues flagged by Bengaluru MLAs, part of the 16 rebels, is the alleged interference of Kumaraswamy and his brother H D Revanna in their constituencies and Bengaluru city.
“We have reached a situation where the coalition is not working. Despite being chairman of the Bangalore Development Authority, my powers have been usurped by others,’’ said Somashekhar.
And JD(S) MLA Narayana Gowda, who has also quit, cited interference by the Gowda family in his constituency as a factor for his resignation.
Though the Congress and JD(S) have publicly claimed that the BJP is behind the current crisis, leaders in both parties admit internal strife is actually pulling the alliance apart.
“The BJP has played a minimal role in this current crisis. They have tried to grab the opportunities created by the infighting in the coalition,” said a Congress leader.
Sources said one of the proposals the Congress has mooted is to make Siddaramaiah the CM and appoint Kumaraswamy’s brother Revanna his deputy to save the coalition. Devegowda, however, has not agreed, sources said.
Siddaramaiah has responded to the accusations by saying that all Congress MLAs are his associates. “Not just the MLAs who have resigned, but all 78 Congress MLAs are dear to me and to almost all leaders of our party. It hurts me when it is selectively stated that the MLAs who are quitting are all my associates,” he said.