BJP: Need majority in Council to move anti-conversion bill
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Karnataka is “taking no chances” in presenting the contentious anti-conversion bill in the upper house of the assembly, waiting for more support to convert it into legislation, party leaders said on Tuesday.
The bill, titled The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021 was introduced and passed in the assembly in the winter session of the state legislature in December last year.
The BJP attempted to present it on the last day of the winter session in Belagavi, however, the opposition raised a strong objection to present the bill in the council without bringing it first on the agenda. The council session ended after witnessing a high drama.
The government, though prepared to get the bill passed in the session held in February, the plan was dropped after the Congress resorted to day-night protest amid the session demanding the sacking of the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Minister KS Eshwarappa for his remarks on hoisting the saffron flag on the Red Fort.
“The BJP government is committed to introducing this anti-conversion bill, which has already been passed in the lower house. In due course of time, when we have a majority in the upper house, we will get this passed,” Capt (Retd) Ganesh Karnik, the BJP’s spokesperson for the Karnataka unit said on Tuesday.
Another leader of the party, who was not willing to be named, said that rushing the bill without assured support would cause an “embarrassment” and increase the chances that it be referred to another committee, prolonging its implementation.
“If we introduce the bill and do not have the numbers, it will be an embarassment to our own party and we are not willing to do that,” said another leader of the BJP, requesting anonymity.
The mooting of the anti-conversion bill had unleashed a series of alleged attacks on the Christian community in the state where right-wing vigilante groups were seen accusing them of converting people with promises of rewards. There were several instances of violence against members of the Christian community as well. The Bommai government has also taken a hardline stand in the hijab controversy where young Muslim girls are not being allowed into schools and colleges with their headscarves.
In the upper house, the BJP is one short of a majority in the 75-member with 37, and it needs at least 38 to enjoy a majority. The Congress has 26 after the December 10 MLC elections, and the Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) has 10. The crucial vote is that of Lakhan Jarkiholi, the sole independent in the mix who, people aware of the developments said, was pushed by his brothers – Ramesh and Balachandra – ahead of the BJP candidate in the polls.
The Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S), which has supported and opposed the BJP and the Congress on several occasions, has remained away from the anti-conversion bill, fearing the impact it would have on its already dwindling support base.
Lakhan has rarely made an appearance since and is believed to be holding out on his support for the BJP on the condition that his brother, Ramesh, be inducted in the Bommai cabinet. Both Lakhan and his brother Ramesh could not be reached for comment. Ramesh was almost forced to step down as water resources minister in March last year after a private individual filed an allegation of sexual assault against the powerful legislator from Gokak.
Ramesh is one of five powerful ‘Jarkiholi brothers’ who wield significant influence in the border district of Belagavi, about 508 kms from Bengaluru.
Dinesh Kalahalli, a social activist, filed a police complaint in March last year in Bengaluru’s Cubbon Park station. An unverified video of what looks like the minister with an unnamed woman sharing physical intimacy was also released to media channels, which played the same on loop. An alleged phone call between the two, in which a person alleged to be the minister, making corruption allegations against then chief minister BS Yediyurappa was also released, causing huge embarrassment to the party and its top leader at the time.
Balachandra Jarkiholi, the BJP legislator from Arabhavi, on Sunday said that he hoped that his brother, Ramesh, be inducted into the cabinet soon.
“After (March) 25 he (Bommai) will go to Delhi. Everyone has hopes that it (cabinet expansion and Ramesh’s induction) will happen on April 1st week,” Balachandra said.
Bommai has been under extreme pressure to keep his party legislators in line as clamour to expand the cabinet grows.
Out of the 34 berths, four seats are vacant in Bommai’s council of ministers and his party colleagues, who did not cut in July last year, have since piled pressure on the chief minister.
Bommai is dependent on the BJP high command to help him in the issue, but the latter has spent little time on the same as it was busy with the elections in five states.
With just one year to go for assembly elections, BJP legislators have demanded that the vacant cabinet berths be filled to give them a chance to prove themselves before the polls next year.