The Congress on Friday claimed that the BJP’s alleged attempts at poaching some its legislators to destabilite the coalition government in Karnataka have been defeated with a show of strength at the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting, where two of its 79 MLAs failed to turn up, without giving any reason for their absence.
Two others also skipped the meeting after informing the party leadership that they have urgent matters to attend to.
The Congress decided to move all 75 party MLAs, who attended the meeting, to a resort outside Bengaluru, ostensibly to protect them from poaching attempts by the BJP. The legislators were housed at Eagleton Resort, where 44 Congress MLAs from Gujarat were sheltered in 2017 before the Rajya Sabha polls.
Ramesh Jharkiholi, an MLA from Gokak region of Belagavi, who was at the forefront of dissident activities after he was dropped from the state Cabinet last month, and close associate Mahesh Kumatahalli, MLA from Athani, also in Belagavi, did not respond to the notice for CLP meeting.
Four Congress MLAs, who were among six dissidents who had gone incommunicado recently, touched base with the party in response to the CLP notice. Chincholi MLA Umesh Jadhav sent a letter seeking to be excused from the meeting, stating that he was unable to travel. Bellary Rural MLA B Nagendra cited a court appearance to not attend the meeting.
Two other MLAs from Bellary region – J N Ganesh (MLA from Kampli) and Bheema Naik (Hagaribomanahalli) – reported at the meeting, convened by CLP leader and former chief minister Siddaramaiah.
The Congress-JD(S) combine has 117 MLAs — Congress 80 (with Speaker) and JD(S) 37 – in the 224 member House. There are 104 BJP MLAs, two Independent MLAs one BSP legislator.
On keeping party legislators at a resort, Siddaramaiah said, “None of our MLAs will leave the party. We have decided to keep all MLAs with us for a few days. We have to prepare for Lok Sabha polls; we also have to overcome this onslaught by BJP.”
BJP state president B S Yeddyurappa said, “The absence of Congress MLAs at today’s meeting and deep differences between the coalition partners give an indication that a volcano is likely to erupt in the coming days.”
Siddaramaiah maintained that the CLP meet was convened to “counter media reports that the government was set to fall because MLAs are deserting the Congress, and that they are holed up in different places”. This, he asserted, “was false news, created by the BJP, and it was proven today at the CLP meeting.”
Starting that Jharkiholi and Kumatahalli “did not respond to the notice”, Siddaramaiah said, “They stayed away without providing any reason. We will send them notices and seek explanations. After we get their explanation, we will inform the (party) high command (for further action).”
In his notice for the CLP meeting, Siddaramaiah had stated that legislators not attending would be considered to have “voluntarily decided to leave primary membership’’ of the Congress.
The absence of Congress MLA Ramesh Jharkiholi, a wealthy businessman, from the meeting suggests that a simmering dispute in the party between Jharkiholi and state Energy minister D K Shivakumar, another wealthy politician, for control of Belagavi region that surfaced in September 2018 remains unresolved.
Siddaramaiah said: “All our MLAs are together; our party is intact. The BJP was offering crores of rupees to our MLAs to switch sides —- Shivalli, Hebbar and others (MLAs) have been offered cash. They (BJP) were offering to make some of them ministers. MLAs who did not know about the anti-defection law were being lured.”
The BJP has denied attempting to poach Congress MLAs to destabilise the government and has claimed that the dissident activities in the Congress were a resulting of infighting in the party.