Another Congress MLA joins Karnataka rebels in Mumbai

Former Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah with rebel Congress MLA Ramalinga Reddy in Bengaluru on Sunday. Courtesy: PTI Photo

A concerted effort over the weekend by leaders of the ruling Congress-JD(S) coalition in Karnataka to woo back the rebel MLAs who have resigned, reducing the combine to a minority, showed little progress, with one of them joining forces on Sunday with 11 others in Mumbai.

On Saturday, after being wooed all day, M T B Nagaraj, a minister in the coalition government, had stated that he remained a member of the Congress despite quitting the coalition. On Sunday, Nagaraj was captured by TV cameras in the company of senior BJP Karnataka leader R Ashok before travelling to Mumbai, and later held a press conference with the other rebels there. However, he insisted he did not travel with Ashok or was in touch with anyone.

In Mumbai, the rebels — 15 of whom have approached the Supreme Court to direct Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar to accept their resignations — put up a united front and claimed there was no question of any of them withdrawing their resignations. “We have not divided into groups. We are all united. M T B Nagaraj has joined us and 12 of us are together now. Another MLA, Sudhakar, who has resigned, is in Delhi and he will join us. There are 13 of us in all and a total of 15, with two Independents,” S T Somashekhar said.

In a sign that the rebels are driving a hard bargain with the ruling coalition and the opposition BJP ahead of the vote of confidence sought by Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, Nagaraj too asserted, “We are all together. Yesterday I said that if Sudhakar takes back his resignation, I will do too. Now there is no question of taking back the resignation.”

The ruling coalition, however, continued to try mop up support of other disgruntled MLAs who have resigned, and those who are likely to resign, but have not travelled to Mumbai, such as Ramalinga Reddy and Roshan Baig. Kumaraswamy, as well as Congress leaders Siddaramaiah, Mallikarjun Kharge and D K Shivakumar, met Reddy on Sunday.

The CM also met Congress MLA B Nagendra, who is admitted in hospital, in an effort to convince him to support the government in a trust vote. “BJP friends keep saying they are not involved in destabilising the government but today’s developments show their involvement,” Congress leader Shivakumar, who was in talks with Nagaraj for over five hours on Saturday to convince him not to leave the coalition, said, hinting at the latter’s meeting with Ashok.

The pleas filed in the Supreme Court by the rebels for acceptance of their resignation are scheduled to be taken up on July 16 and, sources said, they have no option but to stick to their stand during the pendency of the matter. The rebels face the prospect of being disqualified as legislators in the current Assembly if their resignations are not accepted and if they defy a party whip issued to vote in favour of the government during a trust vote.

Kumaraswamy has indicated that he would like to face a trust vote on Wednesday, after seeing the outcome of pleas filed in the Supreme Court by the rebels. Sunday’s developments have left the state BJP leadership enthused about the early demise of the coalition government. BJP Karnataka president B S Yeddyurappa told party MLAs that there would be good news in four-five days.

“The BJP will get a chance to serve the people,” he said. “More than 15 MLAs have resigned so the Chief Minister does not have a majority. Let him resign immediately or schedule a trust vote on Monday to prove his majority,” he said. BJP state leaders indicated that they do not foresee the coalition surviving, despite the party itself likely to face problems in providing a stable government should it come to power with the tacit backing of rebels from the Congress-JD(S) combine.