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Saturday, Aug 17, 2019

Karnataka coalition hangs by thread, 2 more MLAs exit

Chief minister HD Kumaraswamy and top coalition leaders scrambled to save the government with multiple meetings through the day and announced that all 32 ministers had resigned in a bid to make room for some of the disgruntled leaders.

india Updated: Jul 08, 2019 23:42 IST
Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
The rebels had said they felt sidelined and wanted to back the BJP.
The rebels had said they felt sidelined and wanted to back the BJP.(PTI)
         

The Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government in Karnataka tottered on the brink of collapse on Monday after two independent legislators withdrew their support to the coalition and a suspended lawmaker confirmed that he would be quitting his position, adding to the woes of the ruling alliance stung by the resignation of 12 MLAs two days ago.

Chief minister HD Kumaraswamy and top coalition leaders scrambled to save the government with multiple meetings through the day and announced that all 32 ministers had resigned in a bid to make room for some of the disgruntled leaders. But the strategy appeared to have floundered with several rebel leaders, who shifted to a resort in Goa from Mumbai late on Monday evening, reiterating their commitment to quit the coalition.

Independent legislator and minister R Shankar attended an emergency meeting at deputy chief minister G Parameshwara’s house, attended by the CM and top leaders, and then drove to Raj Bhavan to withdraw his support and resign as minister. Earlier in the day, his Cabinet colleague and fellow independent lawmaker, H Nagesh, also announced he was quitting his ministerial berth. Late in the evening, Congress MLA R Roshan Baig said he would skip the Congress Legislature Party meeting on Tuesday and resign as MLA. “I will do so at a convenient time,” he said.

All eyes are now on Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar, who returns to Bengaluru on Tuesday and has to take a call on 13 resignations – nine Congress and three JD(S) MLAs on Saturday, and rebel lawmaker Anand Singh who quit a week ago. The rebels had said they felt sidelined and wanted to back the BJP.

If their resignations are accepted, the strength of the House falls from 224 (one additional member is nominated) to 211 and the majority mark becomes 106. The coalition will have 104 members (including the Speaker who cannot vote in a floor test, except to break a tie) while the BJP will have the support of 105, and the likely backing of two independents.

The assembly session begins on Friday.

The political turmoil in the state also echoed in Parliament, with Congress’s Lok Sabha leader Adhir Ranjan Choudhury on Monday accusing the BJP of conspiring to destabilise the state government, and the Centre saying it had no role to play in the developments. “Whatever is happening currently in Karnataka, we have no relation with that,” defence minister Rajnath Singh said.

The loss of the two independents took the Congress leaders by surprise because both had been inducted into the Cabinet in June to stabilise the government. Congress state working president Eshwar Khandre claimed Shankar had merged his one-man Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party with the Congress last month, and therefore couldn’t quit the coalition without resigning as MLA. However, a senior official at the state secretariat said no such letter of merger had been officially received.

The BJP said it had adopted a wait-and-watch strategy and would meet on Tuesday. “The CM should have resigned by now. The independent MLAs have expressed their support for us and so our number is 107 and the coalition is at 104,” said senior leader Arvind Limbavali.

In the Congress camp, leaders put on a brave face despite bad news piling up. After the resignation of all ministers, AICC general secretary KC Venugopal lauded the move and called on rebels to come back into the party fold. “We believe in the MLAs and we are ready to discuss everything,” he said. Kumaraswamy also announced that the Cabinet will be reconstituted. But as the day progressed, it became clear that negotiations with some disgruntled leaders, especially former home minister Ramalinga Reddy who is seen to be leading the rebel group, had fallen through.

Senior Congress leaders went into a huddle in Delhi on Monday evening to discuss the Karnataka crisis.

Karnataka minister DK Shivakumar arrived in the Capital to brief the party leadership about steps taken to pacify the rebels who are insisting on replacing the CM. “But that is not possible,” he said.

The unlikely coalition of foes turned friends materialised hours after the results of the assembly elections in May last year threw up a hung assembly with the BJP as the single largest party at 104 seats. The Congress, with 78 seats, and the JD(S), with 37 seats, forged an alliance with Kumaraswamy as CM. His swearing-in saw opposition leaders from across the country flying into Bengaluru in a show of strength of Opposition unity ahead of the general elections.

The coalition weathered several bumps over the next 12 months, including reports of friction between Kumaraswamy and former CM Siddaramaiah, but suffered a blow in the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls, when it won just two of the 28 seats in the state. The BJP won 25. Soon after, senior Congress and JD(S) leaders started blaming each other for the electoral defeats of senior leaders including former prime minister HD Deve Gowda.

First Published: Jul 08, 2019 23:41 IST

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