The ruling Congress-JD(S) coalition in Karnataka slipped to the brink of collapse Saturday after 10 Congress and three JD(S) MLAs submitted their resignations to the Speaker and later met Governor Vajubhai Vala. The move comes days after another Congress MLA, Anand Singh, resigned on July 1.
If the Speaker accepts the 14 resignations, the coalition will lose majority in the 224-member Assembly as its strength will come down to 104 against the BJP’s 105. The coalition’s current strength, including those who have resigned, is 118 (Congress-78, JD(S)-37, BSP-1 and Independents-2), besides the Speaker.
Leadership vacuum, crisis hits states
After the resignation of two MLAs in Gujarat and now more in Karnataka, the crisis in the Congress triggered by Rahul Gandhi’s resignation as party president is slowly spreading to states. Though the party claims Gandhi will continue until his resignation is accepted and an alternative system is put in place, the continuing uncertainty and leadership vacuum is beginning to take its toll.
Speaker Ramesh Kumar, who was not in office when the legislators arrived, said “whether the government will fall or survive” will be decided “in the Assembly”. Unable to meet the Speaker, who asked the MLAs to return on Tuesday, the rebel legislators met Governor Vala and conveyed their desire to quit. Later, eight of the 14 MLAs left for Mumbai on a chartered flight, stating that they would return Tuesday to meet the Speaker.
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While the Congress accused the BJP of trying to “bring down an elected government” and asserted that the government in Karnataka would continue, state BJP president B S Yeddyurappa said his party had nothing to do with the crisis.
“We have heard that some MLAs have resigned. We are not responsible for this. We will see what happens in the coming days. I am not going to comment until the situation is clear. We will decide after watching the political developments,’’ said Yeddyurappa, who was caught earlier this year by Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy while trying to lure a JD(S) MLA to defect.
The crisis has also unfolded at a time when Kumaraswamy is in the United States on a personal and semi-official visit. He is expected to return to Bengaluru Sunday. In his absence, Congress leader and minister D K Shivakumar, considered the Congress troubleshooter for the coalition, tried to convince the disgruntled MLAs from quitting but failed.
State Congress chief Dinesh Gundu Rao, who is also abroad, party veteran Mallikarjun Kharge and AICC observer K C Venugopal are expected to arrive in Bengaluru Sunday.
Shivakumar expressed confidence that many disgruntled MLAs could still be convinced to return. “They are giving silly reasons for their resignation. We are ready to sacrifice a lot to run the coalition and we will do it. There are differences but we will try to sort it out,” he said.
Congress leaders claimed that the 14 MLAs were upset over the failure of the coalition government to address local issues that concern them. “If the issues are addressed, the situation is still recoverable,” said a Congress functionary.
Some MLAs, especially veterans like Ramalinga Reddy in the Congress and H Vishwanath in the JD(S), are upset over being ignored for Cabinet posts, while others are reportedly unhappy with governance issues in Bengaluru city. A few, however, are keen to defect to the BJP, according to sources.
The MLAs who have resigned are H Vishwanath, Y Gopalaiah and K C Narayana Gouda from the JDS; the Congress MLAs are B C Patil, Mahesh Kumatahalli, Ramesh Jharkiholi, Shivaram Hebbar, Prathapgouda Patil, Ramalinga Reddy, Byrathi Basavaraj, N Munirathna, S T Somashekhar and Anand Singh.
As many as seven of the 14 MLAs have been linked with a move to the BJP for over 10 months now and were part of a Congress rebel group.
Incidentally, the crisis in Karnataka was simmering even before the coalition’s disastrous performance in the Lok Sabha elections, when it managed to win just two seats compared to the BJP’s 26. The rout only accentuated that crisis while party leaders were preoccupied with addressing larger challenges in Delhi.
Sources said Kharge, among the senior-most party leaders in Karnataka, enjoys good relations with many of the MLAs who have resigned or are contemplating to switch sides, and hope he will arrest the slide.
Senior leaders admitted the crisis is real and said the immediate priority would be to save the government. “Aaya Ram, gaya Ram has a new definition in India. The new word for aaya ram, gaya ram is MODI — Mischievously Orchestrated Defections in India. Modi ji and the BJP need to be aware that the Karnataka government which is a coalition government having complete majority under our democratic set up is now being sought to be pulled down by a spate of defections and resignations,” said party media chief Randeep Surjewala.
“MLAs are being bought in broad daylight…Modiji, you swore by the Constitution of India. If those who swear by the Constitution are going to denigrate it, trample over democracy.there will be no democracy left in this country. We deprecate the efforts of the BJP to buy over legislators, pressurise legislators into resigning to bring down an elected government.”