A remark by Karnataka Water Resources Minister D K Shivakumar Monday that the Opposition BJP is attempting to lure Congress MLAs triggered fresh speculation of a crisis in the JD(S)-Congress government.
His remarks came after three MLAs travelled to Mumbai and 104 BJP MLAs travelled to New Delhi to discuss strategies with BJP president Amit Shah for the Lok Sabha polls. The BJP denied meddling in the affairs of the Congress and the JD(S) was quick to reiterate that the coalition was safe.
Shivakumar, who played a crucial role in keeping all Congress MLAs intact when the coalition with the JD(S) was forged in May 2018, said that the BJP is attempting an “Operation Lotus” in Karnataka (a strategy where Congress MLAs resign and join the BJP to contest fresh polls).
“Horse trading is going on in the state. Three of our MLAs are in Mumbai in a hotel with some BJP MLAs and leaders. We are aware of what has transpired there and how much has been offered to them,” he said. “All the MLAs have conveyed to the Chief Minister (H D Kumaraswamy) about the conspiracy. They have also told Siddaramaiah (former Congress CM) about it.”
The Congress-JD(S) combine in Karnataka currently has 117 MLAs (Congress 80 and the JDS 37) in the 224-member Assembly while the BJP has 104 and there are three others.
“There is no truth in these reports. This is a game of the Congress and Kumaraswamy. You must ask Kumaraswamy what is happening,” BJP state president B S Yeddyurappa said. “We are meeting in Delhi to discuss the Lok Sabha poll strategy and nothing else. We have not touched anybody. There is no meaning to all of this.”
The BJP MLAs and former MLAs in the New Delhi were Monday asked to stay back for two days to discuss poll preparations, said BJP general secretary P Muralidhar Rao, in charge of Karnataka.
He told The Indian Express that Shivakumar’s allegations were a bid to consolidate his own position in the Congress “for which he was trying to brand the anti-Shivakumar group as pro-BJP”. Sources said the MLAs were later moved to a hotel in Manesar.
According to Chief Minister Kumaraswamy, the three Congress MLAs had informed him before leaving for Mumbai. “I spoke to them at 7:30 am. They have gone for personal reasons and there is no need to add politics to it,” he said. “I don’t know who will benefit from such reports but according to me, it will cause distress to the people of the state.”
The three MLAs Shivakumar referred to are Ramesh Jharkiholi — a Belagavi MLA who was engaged in a turf war with Shivakumar last year — and two Ballari MLAs, B Nagendra and Anand Singh, who were earlier in the BJP’s Reddy brothers group.
The three MLAs were among those reported to be upset after being denied positions in the state Cabinet following a recent expansion where Siddaramaiah’s supporters got the lion’s share of positions.
Congress sources claimed that the three MLAs and a few others were attempting to exert their influence ahead of the party’s preparations for the Lok Sabha polls including seat-sharing talks with the JD(S).