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Karnataka Congress summons MLAs today to identify dissidents, endgame nears

The Congress, which has an alliance with the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, and the BJP accuse each other of trying to poach their members of the legislative assembly (MLAs).

india Updated: Jan 18, 2019 11:51 IST
Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
Karnataka,Congress,MLAs
Congress members hold a protest against BJP’s alleged horse-trading bid in Bengaluru on Thursday. (ANI )

A tense end game in Karnataka’s latest political drama is set to play itself out on Friday, when the Congress has summoned a meeting of its legislators for a show of hands, seeking to identify turncoats with a warning that absentees will be expelled from the party.

The Congress, which has an alliance with the Janata Dal (Secular) in the southern state, and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) resumed an acrimonious verbal battle after a day’s rest, accusing each other of trying to poach their members of the legislative assembly (MLAs).

Some of the Congress’s 80 MLAs were still missing (3-5, according to PTI), and thought to be in Mumbai, keeping up the suspense over their intentions. One of the alleged dissenters, B Nagendra, arrived in the state capital to attend a court hearing and rubbished speculation that he had been poached by the BJP, but was unsure if he would attend Friday’s meeting.

Watch | Congress holds protest against BJP alleging involvement in MLA poaching

“I have come to the city for a court hearing. There is no operation (to poach Congress MLAs). I went to Mumbai for personal reasons as I have business there. I keep going there often,” Nagendra said, insisting that he had never been out of contact.

Analysis | The BJP doesn’t have too many options in Karnataka

“I don’t have any reason to be unhappy (with the Congress). Regarding the CLP {Congress Legislature Party} meeting, I have to see what happens with the court, if I have a hearing tomorrow as well, it might be difficult to attend,” Nagendra said.

The arrival on Wednesday of another dissident, LBP Bheema Naik, had boosted the Congress’s morale and sent a signal that a crisis confronting the Congress had blown over. Former chief minister Siddaramaiah made it clear that proceedings under the anti-defection law would be launched against those who fail to turn up at the meeting of lawmakers, scheduled to take place at 3:30 pm in the state legislature.

The state assembly is not in session, and it wasn’t clear if a party whip would be binding on legislators. State Congress president Dinesh Gundu Rao told HT that the party had sought a legal opinion on the powers of the CLP chief to issue such a notice and only after that had the Congress gone ahead with the move.

“The legislature party chief has all the powers to issue such a notice. Let us see what happens on Friday,” Gundu Rao said.

Also Read | Karnataka Congress rules out rebellion as ‘missing’ MLA returns

A senior Congress leader, who did not wish to be named, said the dissidents had been thwarted in their attempt to muster more support.

“From the beginning, it was clear that there were at best around five people who would even think of such a move (switching sides),” this person said.

What worked in the party’s favour was the fact that the dissidents could not muster much support.

“The problem is that no legislator is in a position to resign and face the people once again for a bye-election. This is why we decided to force their hand in the matter and issued the notice to attend the meeting,” the Congress leader said.

Assembly elections in May produced a hung assembly with no party receiving a majority on its own although the BJP emerged as the single largest with 104 seats in the 224-member assembly.

A BJP government headed by BS Yeddyurappa was formed, but quit without facing a floor test when it became clear it didn’t have the numbers, paving the way for a hastily cobbled coalition between the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), with 117 seats between them, to assume office under the latter’s HD Kumaraswamy. On Tuesday, two independents withdrew support to the coalition.

BJP has herded its 104 legislators at a resort in Manesar, near Gurgaon on the outskirts of Delhi. A majority of them will stay put at the resort until after Congress CLP meeting, PTI reported.

Also Read | BJP creating nuisance, crisis to fizzle out soon: Karnataka CM Kumaraswamy

Senior leader CT Ravi said that no legislator had been kept captive as alleged by the Congress. Ravi said the BJP had not tried anything new in the state.

“The politics that you indulged in, in the past, is what we have done,” he said. “Dissidence is within your party, and, of course, we will add fuel to that fire, that’s politics. But if your MLAs do not respect you, then don’t blame us.”

In Maharashtra’s Aurangabad, Karnataka irrigation minister DK Shivakumar claimed that the Congress and JD(S)-led coalition was stable and accused the BJP of trying to “create chaos.”

“The Congress-JDS government in Karnataka is stable and will be stable. It’s just that my BJP friends are trying to create chaos. They don’t want stability and don’t want to respect the mandate of the people. They don’t want the arithmetic number to be in good shape. They are trying to orchestrate the situation; however, nothing will happen,” Shivakumar said.

According to Congress functionaries who didn’t want to be named, a few ministers from the party have even offered to step down in the larger interest and to keep the coalition intact, PTI reported. The party leadership is also at the option, the report added.

BJP Karnataka chief BS Yeddyurappa said no colleague of his had been involved in any operation to topple the Congress-JD(S) coalition, referring to media reports that the opposition party had launched an “Operation Lotus” to destabilise the state government. Lotus is the BJP’s electoral symbol.

Yeddyurappa said BJP legislators had been discussing preparations for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections at the resort in Manesar.

“Tomorrow, they (Congress) have called their legislature party meeting. How many will come, it will be known, their true colours will come out tomorrow,” Yeddyurppa said, accusing Kumaraswamy of offering money and ministerial posts to BJP MLAs to leave the opposition party.

First Published: Jan 18, 2019 07:05 IST