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Monday, Aug 19, 2019

Karnataka crisis deepens as two more MLAs resign

On Wednesday, Karnataka’s government received a fresh jolt when two more MLAs handed over their resignations.

india Updated: Jul 10, 2019 23:52 IST
Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
Former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah leaves the chamber of Minister KJ George, where Congress leaders kept the rebel MLA K Sudhakar, in Bengaluru, Wednesday, July 10, 2019.
Former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah leaves the chamber of Minister KJ George, where Congress leaders kept the rebel MLA K Sudhakar, in Bengaluru, Wednesday, July 10, 2019. (PTI photo)
         

Karnataka’s tottering coalition government received a fresh jolt on Wednesday as two more lawmakers quit their positions and police in Mumbai scotched frenetic attempts by Congress troubleshooters to approach the rebel legislators whose resignations have plunged the one-year-old government into a crisis.

Ten rebel MLAs moved the Supreme Court against assembly speaker KR Ramesh Kumar’s decision to hold off on accepting their letters of resignation. Kumar had rejected eight of 14 resignations, and said the remaining six lawmakers would have to meet him in person and convince him that their offers to demit office were not coerced.

The meetings begin on Friday. If the resignation of all 14 law makers, plus the two from Wednesday, are accepted, the coalition government will slip to a minority in the assembly.

Dramatic scenes were seen outside a luxury hotel in Mumbai where 12 rebel MLAs have camped for the past four days. Senior Congress leader DK Shivakumar, former Union minister Milind Deora and others showed up outside the hotel in the morning, but were stopped by the police from entering the premises. The authorities said they had received complaints from the rebels that they feared for their life, and didn’t pay heed to the Congress leaders’ claims that they had booked a room in the hotel..

“I haven’t brought any security force or weapon, I only have my heart with me. I want to meet my friends and have coffee with them. If the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party ] is not involved then why are we not being allowed to enter,” Shivakumar asked.

Also read | After Karnataka, Congress loses 10 MLAs in Goa. Its leader is one of them

As the showdown intensified and some political workers attempted to scale the hotel’s boundary wall, the police detained Shivakumar and others. They were released three hours later and Shivakumar was put on a late evening flight to the Karnataka capital.

In Bengaluru, Hoskote MLA MTB Nagaraj and Chikkaballapur MLA K Sudhakar joined 14 other rebels from the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) in submitting their resignations to Kumar, who said the hand-written letters were in the correct format.

“Yes, they have tendered the resignations in the prescribed format. I have told my office to fix an interview with them. It will be on 17 July,” Kumar told reporters. Two other independent legislators have resigned their ministerial positions and pledged their support to the BJP. “I don’t want any ministerial position or anything. I am fed up with politics,” Nagaraj told reporters.

On Tuesday, Kumar had rejected eight resignation letters for not following the prescribed format, and asked the other five to meet him in person. His decision was challenged in the apex court on Wednesday with a petition by 10 rebel lawmakers on grounds that the speaker had adopted a delaying tactic to prolong the life of the “minority government” in the House. “The speaker’s tactic to delay their resignation was anti-democratic and a violation of the basic structure,” read the petition, which will be heard by the top court on Thursday.

Tempers ran high at Bengaluru’s Vidhana Soudha (assembly), where Sudhakar was surrounded and pushed around by angry Congress leaders, who demanded he take back the resignation. Speaking after Sudhakar left, former chief minister Siddaramaiah said he had an amicable discussion with Sudhakar. “He is my well wisher and I held discussions with him. He said he resigned for some personal reasons and that he would meet me on Thursday.”

Chief minister HD Kumaraswamy was incensed by the Mumbai Police detention of Shivakumar and others. “Manhandling ministers and MLAs is very annoying and unbecoming of Mumbai Police,” he tweeted.

BS Yeddyurappa, the 76-year-old Karnataka BJP chief, lashed out at the Congress. “The MLA has been kidnapped by his own party for resigning,” he said,referring to Sudhakar.

Later, Bengaluru police commissioner Alok Kumar escorted Sudhakar out of the building. The dissident also met governor Vajubhai Vala. A senior BJP leader said the party was thinking of approaching the governor citing a breakdown of law and order. “This is unprecedented. We are discussing options and definitely approaching the governor is one option,” he said.

Also read | Rebel Cong MLA manhandled after quitting seat. Kidnapped, says Yeddyurappa

The coalition government was stitched together hours after the results of the May 2018 assembly elections in order to keep the single-largest party, the BJP, out of power. But since then, the Congress-JD(S) alliance has been roiled by dissent and infighting. The current crisis began on Saturday when 12 legislators – nine from Congress and three from JD(S) -- quit their positions. Anand Singh,a rebel Congress lawmaker had resigned earlier in the week. Despite frenetic efforts by the coalition, two independents withdrew support on Monday, and one more suspended Congress MLA resigned on Tuesday.

The speaker has called eight MLAs for meetings starting Friday while eight others will have to submit their letters afresh. If the former eight resignations are accepted, the strength of the House will reduce to 216 from 224 and the new majority mark will be 109. The coalition’s number will reduce to 108, excluding the Speaker, who cannot vote except to break a tie, while the BJP will have the backing of 105 MLAs and two independents.

The unfolding crisis echoed in Parliament for a third straight day with Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury alleging that democracy was being murdered in Karnataka and Union minister Pralhad Joshi explaining that Mumbai Police had stepped in after rebel MLAs had written a letter seeking protection.

First Published: Jul 10, 2019 23:52 IST

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