THE RULING Congress-JD(S) coalition in Karnataka took a desperate tactical step to prevent the toppling of the alliance government by the opposition BJP on Friday by inducting two Independent MLAs into the state Cabinet in order to prevent them from boosting BJP numbers.
One of the Independent MLAs, R Shankar, who extended support to the BJP in January after he was removed from the Cabinet, has now agreed to become a primary member of the Congress party. On Friday, he merged his one-man Karnataka Pragyavantha Janata Party with the Congress. The second Independent MLA sworn in as Cabinet minister is H Nagesh.
Shankar, who is from Rannebennur, and H Nagesh, from Mulbagal, extended support to the coalition when it was formed in May 2018 but in January this year, they announced withdrawal of support after being wooed by the BJP amid a rebellion by a few coalition MLAs The two Independents filled up vacancies that existed in the ministry — two on the JD(S) side and one on the Congress side. One Cabinet position available to the JD(S) remains vacant.
“Before taking oath as minister Shankar met Siddaramaiah and provided a letter for his merger with the Congress party,” an aide of the former chief minister said.
The move to induct the two Independent MLAs is expected to stall BJP efforts to form government in Karnataka by getting coalition MLAs to quit and defect to the BJP. The BJP at present has 105 MLAs in the 224-member assembly while the coalition has 116 MLAs apart from two Independents and a BSP MLA currently associated with the JD(S).
The Cabinet positions to the two independent MLAs is seen as an effort by the Congress-JD(S) coalition to make it harder for the BJP to reduce the coalition to a minority by getting around 10 MLAs to resign. With the induction of the Independents the BJP would have to woo 14 coalition MLAs to reduce the government to a minority in the assembly.
The induction of the Independent MLAs is, however, set to trigger a renewed effort by a handful of Congress rebels to come together to topple the government.
Senior Congress leader D K Shivakumar, however, claimed that many senior Congress ministers are willing to give up their Cabinet posts in order to save the government. “We are all willing to sacrifice at the appropriate time,” he said.
“Both Independents will join the BJP at the appropriate time despite being made ministers in the coalition. This is only a temporary thing,” senior BJP leader K S Eshwarappa said Friday. In the Congress, several veteran MLAs like Ramalinga Reddy, Roshan Baig, H K Patil have spoken out against party leaders since the loss in the Lok Sabha polls. Reddy is considered to be in the reckoning in the event of a Cabinet reshuffle but Baig, who was days ago linked to a fraud perpetrated by a private investment firm, is not likely to get a look in.