Bengaluru: The Congress, stung by dissent following the recent announcement of cabinet expansion plans, on Monday tried to contain the potential damage to the coalition government in Karnataka by issuing a stern warning to its legislators.

The indirect warning, trained at low-level district leaders of the party, was also meant to issue a message to some of its senior leaders such as Ramesh Jarkiholi, who had made their dissent public and even threatened to resign from the party along with several legislators. Jarkiholi was dropped from the state cabinet and replaced by his brother, Satish Jarkiholi.

Supporters of seven-time legislator Ramalinga Reddy, too, have threatened to dent the chances of the Congress in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, if he was not accommodated in the state cabinet. Reddy said he will not quit the party, but questioned the policies of the state Congress leadership, which neglected seniors leaders.

If Ramesh Jarkiholi were to resign from the party’s primary membership and take other legislators along with him, it will be a boost for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has 104 legislators in the 224-member Assembly. The Congress-Janata Dal (Secular), JD(S), alliance has a slender majority with 113 seats.

Jarkiholi was seen getting closer to the BJP even before the party decided to remove him from the cabinet on Saturday, according to state Congress leaders.

Jarkiholi put the Congress on notice and told reporters outside his residence in Bengaluru that he will not meet anyone from his party, but will announce his decision within the next four days. Though dissent has taken a toll on the coalition government since it assumed office six months ago, recent threats by a section of leaders of going against the party’s interests in the 2019 elections could throw a spanner in the works of the Congress’ plans to put up a strong opposition to the BJP in Karnataka.

Congress state president Dinesh Gundu Rao refrained from naming senior leaders, but trained his guns at district level leaders. He said the Congress will not tolerate anti-party activity and stern action will be taken against all workers.

Some junior leaders were also expelled from the party on disciplinary grounds “for issuing statements or working against the interest of the party".

Aggrieved legislators alleged that those in charge of the local unit, including Rao and former chief minister Siddaramaiah, had hijacked the agenda of the party and were using it for individual gain. The development has only added to the woes of chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, who has spent a lot of his time in office dealing with dissenting voices and threats to bring his rule to an end ahead of the 2019 elections.

“The Congress has its own system for tackling such problems and it will," said Danish Ali, the national spokesperson for the JD(S).

Some Congress leaders allege that most appointments made so far have been done to provide equitable region and caste wise representation . The coalition that had earlier decided to have a performance review every six months but has now said it would be annual exercise. The party has proposed to rotate ministers every two years to keep dissent under check and its leaders motivated.

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