In a nail-biting finish late on Monday, the BJP managed to enlist the support of five of the six Independent MLAs in the new Karnataka assembly.
With a tally of 110 seats in the 224-strong House, the BJP had emerged as the single largest party but needed the backing of at least three Independents to cross the magic figure of 113 and claim a simple majority. Two of the Independents, T. Shivaraj — a BJP rebel — from Kanakagiri and Gullihatti Shekar from Hosadurga, proved easy to win over, showing up at chief minister aspirant B.S. Yeddyurappa’s residence and announcing their support.
But the remaining four — R. Varthur Prakash from Kolar, P.M. Narendra Swamy from Malavalli, D. Sudhakar from Hiriyur and Venkataramanappa from Pavagada, all Congress rebels — proved tougher to crack. All day, they spurned the BJP’s offer. They seemed to nurse dreams of a Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government.
Prakash and Swamy, in fact, urged the Congress to support Siddaramaiah’s candidature for the CM’s post in a possible Congress-JD(S)-Independents coalition. “They have conveyed our request to Congress leaders in Delhi. Oscar Fernandes said he will arrive tonight and talk to us about the prospects of electing Siddaramaiah as leader of the coalition,” Prakash said.
All four were in touch with Siddaramaiah and former minister D.K. Shivakumar, rushing in and out of meetings at a hotel. But the senior leaders denied they were trying to knit together a coalition. “I have advised them not to act in haste, but weigh their options before the next step. They won because of our party’s base, not on their individual strength. Of course, our intention is to keep communal forces out of power,” said Siddaramaiah.
In Delhi too, Congress leaders said there was no effort at government formation. “We accept defeat. The people voted for us to sit in the Opposition and we will play that role, exposing the BJP,” said AICC general secretary in charge of Karnataka Prithviraj Chavan. Spokesman Manish Tiwari too said: “The Congress will try to fulfil its responsibility as an Opposition party.”
Shivakumar admitted a group of Congress leaders had met the four Independent legislators, but insisted it was only to exchange notes on what went wrong. “We cannot match the inducements the BJP leaders are offering. I believe they are being tempted with Rs 50 crore each,” he said.
Whether or not Shivakumar’s allegation had any basis will never be known. Till 8 p.m. the BJP was stuck at 112. But after its legislature party trooped to Raj Bhavan to meet the governor at 9 p.m., it was announced that five independents had pledged support. Shortly afterwards, the five reached Raj Bhavan. The only one missing was Prakash.
With inputs from Saroj Nagi.