A rebellion in the Karnataka Congress, which was seen as an attempt by Opposition BJP to topple the Congress-JD(S) coalition in Karnataka, appeared to be petering out, with the ruling combine establishing contact with the six MLAs reported to have gone incommunicado on Monday.
With one of them, Bhima Naik, the MLA from Hagaribomanahalli in Bellary, returning to the party fold, the Congress on Wednesday called a meeting of the state legislature party on Friday to discuss strategies for the Lok Sabha polls.
Congress leaders said all its 79 legislators were expected to attend the meeting called by CLP leader and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.
“We have spoken individually to all MLAs who were reported to be missing. They are all with the Congress. One MLA is with us in Bengaluru and two others are on their way,” said AICC general secretary and Karnataka in-charge
K C Venugopal, who met Naik. “We have explained the legal position regarding defections to the MLAs. The BJP misled some of the MLAs about the consequences of defecting,” he claimed.
Two other missing MLAs — B Nagendra from Bellary Rural and B N Ganesh from Kampli — were reported to be on way back on Wednesday evening.
Venugopal claimed the returning MLAs — many were disgruntled over being denied Cabinet berths — were not being offered any “immediate promise or assurance”. “But something will be done at the appropriate time, probably after Lok Sabha polls,’’ a source in the Congress said.
Bellary MLA Naik said he has been offered a ministerial post before quickly adding that he was joking. “My phone did not have currency and it was switched off; that is why I was unreachable for two days. I was away and not in touch with other MLAs, or anybody from the BJP,’’ Naik claimed.
Apart from the three MLAs from Bellary region, two from Belagavi — Ramesh Jharkiholi and Mahesh Kamatahalli — and an MLA from Kalaburagi region, Umesh Jadhav, were reported to be among the rebels. “These MLAs are also expected return,’’ sources said.
Coalition future depends on Lok Sabha results
The attempts to destabilise the Congress-JD(S) government in Karnataka by a few Congress rebels, ostensibly with covert support of the BJP, seems set to fail for the third time in seven months. The future of the coalition now seems dependent on the outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. While the BJP national leadership has ruled out any plan to destabilise the government, the party’s state unit may not be that disinterested. So if the BJP-led NDA returns to power with a decent majority, more manoeuvres may not be ruled out.
In Delhi, Congress leader of Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge alleged that the Central government is intimidating Congress MLAs using Income Tax, Enforcement Directorate and agencies such as CBI. “But they will not succeed…. The BJP has always indulged in horse-trading …they had done it in Karnataka too earlier. Our (alliance’s) 118 MLAs are intact — nobody is going anywhere,” he said.
Kharge accused the BJP of “trying to create fear among MLAs”, and attempting to repeat what it did in Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh earlier by “spreading lies and rumours” about Congress MLAs leaving the party.
On BJP’s charge that its legislators are being poached by the Congress, Kharge said, “We are not calling anyone. But if someone comes, we cannot shut our door to them. What is the BJP’s fear?”
The Congress with 80 MLAs and JD(S) with 37 enjoy a clear majority of 117 seats in the 224-member legislature. The BJP has 104 MLAs and there are two Independents and a BSP MLA. “The BJP was hoping to see the Congress-JD(S) numbers reduce below 106 after the withdrawal of support by two Independent MLAs (on Tuesday),’’ Congress sources said.
The BJP said the crisis was a creation of the Congress itself. “Congress leaders rocked their own cradle and made the baby cry. Now, without reason, they are blaming the BJP to mislead the public,’’ BJP general secretary C T Ravi said.
“The Congress is saying that none of its MLAs will resign but on the other hand accusing the BJP of horse-trading. They are contradicting themselves. The BJP is not responsible for developments in the Congress party. It is a consequence of the failures of the coalition parties,’’ Ravi said. —with ens, delhi