THREE-TIME Congress MLA from the Sandur reserved constituency in Bellary, E Tukaram, was driving down to Bengaluru on Wednesday, after his victory in the Karnataka Assembly elections on May 15 when he heard rumours that he was among 12 MLAs to have gone missing while the Congress party tried to gather its flock of 78 to stake claim to form the next government in alliance with the JD(S).
Tukaram eventually arrived at the Congress party’s Bengaluru office in the afternoon.
“We were celebrating the election victory when we were asked to come to Bengaluru by the party. We were travelling by road and it took us a while to get here but rumours began spreading that I was among the MLAs being poached by the BJP,’’ Tukaram said.
With the Karnataka elections delivering a gridlock of a verdict by electing 104 MLAs from the BJP, 78 from the Congress, 37 from the JDS, and three others — leaving no party in a situation to cross the 112-figure to form a government, political parties are keeping an eagle eye on the MLAs in their flock to keep them from being poached by rivals.
The BJP, after being invited by the Governor and being given 15 days to prove its numbers on the floor of the House, will be working hard to get around its deficit of eight. Who are these eight, what will be done to get their loyalty is all the buzz in town.
One Independent MLA N Shankar, who was elected from the Rannebennur seat, was seen both in the BJP camp and the Congress-JD(S) camp through the course of the day on Wednesday.
When asked why, he said: “It took me a little time to understand the JD(S)-Congress alliance but now I am firmly in this group.’’ He said this standing outside the Congress office on Wednesday evening — after he was spotted in the company of BJP’s CM-designate B S Yeddyurappa earlier in the day. “I will go with who ever has the best chance of forming the next government,’’ he said.
The hung assembly situation has meant that each of the three main political parties in Karnataka have delegated leaders with money and muscle to keep their flock together and attract MLAs from rival camps.
On the BJP front, the Reddy brothers of Bellary and their associate B Sreeramulu have emerged as key players in the attempt to help the BJP cross the half-way mark.
For the Congress, Vokkaliga strongman D K Shivakumar — who protected a flock of 43 Gujarat MLAs for the party ahead of a Rajya Sabha poll in 2017 — and the Byrathi brothers, businessmen and close associates of interim chief minister Siddaramaiah, have emerged as key players in keeping its share of 78 MLAs and two Independents intact.
For the JD(S), real estate businessman and MP Kupendra Reddy has to do the honours.
BJP leaders are primarily reaching out to Congress and JD(S) MLAs they believe are willing to resign and jump over. The Reddy group in Bellary adopted a similar strategy in 2008 to help the BJP form a stable government after the party fell short of three seats in the 224-member assembly.
In 2008, the BJP initially formed the government with the help of Independents but then, subsequently, got over eight MLAs from the Congress and JD(S) to resign and later got them elected on BJP tickets to stabilize the government in the state.
This time, the Reddy group, through its key leader MLA B Sreeramulu, has approached six Congress MLAs from Bellary, four JD(S) MLAs and two Independents, say sources in the JD(S) and the Congress.
“The BJP has approached Bellary Congress MLAs Anand Singh and B Nagendra through Sreeramulu and they have been asked to bring in other MLAs from the region,’’ a Congress source said. “There is no problem for the BJP in proving a majority,’’ Sreeramulu said on Wednesday.
The BJP has primarily targeted its early poaching efforts on newly elected MLAs from the Congress who have old ties with the BJP or are even unhappy with the Congress-JD(S) alliance who can also win a re-election from their constituencies if they choose to quit as Congress MLAs.
The BJP is believed to be chasing a strategy of reducing the numbers of its rivals ahead of the floor test to enable its 104-number to appear as a simple majority.
The Bellary MLAs Anand Singh and Nagendra were linked to the BJP and the Reddy brothers until a few months ago. Bheema Naik, another Bellary MLA, reportedly approached by the BJP, deserted the JD(S) acrimoniously last year.
The Congress Bellary MLAs reported to have been approached by the BJP to jump the Congress ship eventually turned up at the Congress office on Wednesday before the Congress whisked the flock of MLAs away to a resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru.
“It took us a while to come here from Bellary. I have come with Nagendra and Bheema Naik. There have been rumours that we are deserting the Congress but this is not true,’’ said J N Ganesh, the new Kampli MLA, said after he arrived at the Congress office Wednesday.
Among the other Congress MLAs reported to have have been targeted by the BJP are Rajashekhar Patil from Humnabad and Puttaranga Shetty an MLA from Chamarajnagar. All the MLAs, however, turned up at the Congress office on Wednesday.
“We have collected all our MLAs now no one will go away,’’ Congress MLA Byrathi Basavaraju said after all the party’s MLAs other than Anand Singh arrived in the party office.
“We are also talking to some of their MLAs,’’ claimed a senior Congress leader in Karnataka.
The JD(S), meanwhile, has also become wary of its MLAs being targeted. “Our MLAs were offered Rs 100 crore and cabinet rank posts to break away. I want to know whether that money will be black or white. Where has BJP stashed the money? Is it going to give it from its party fund?” JD(S) president H D Kumaraswamy said. “If they try to take our MLAs away, they should know we can do the same to them,’’ he said. JD(S) sources said four of its MLAs were approached by the BJP to break ranks.