Bengaluru: The two vacant ministerial berths available with the Janata Dal (Secular), JD(S), could be used by the ruling coalition partners in Karnataka to counter any inducement to defect given to their legislators by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), according to two people aware of the developments.

This assumes importance as speculation is rife about defection by leaders who did not make the second list of the cabinet and are allegedly being lured by the BJP. Several people within the JD(S) believe that the vacant ministerial berths will be a form of insurance to counter any damage caused to the coalition if the BJP does poach Congress or JD(S) legislators.

The JD(S), however, maintains that it will fill up the two seats at the end of the ongoing inauspicious period that is to end mid-January.

Offering key posts to defectors has long been the practice in Indian politics, especially if the switch can install another party in power.

The BJP has allegedly promised to give plum ministerial posts and monetary rewards to senior leaders of the coalition, while the JD(S) aims to offer the same incentive to those it claims will make the switch from the saffron party, should the situation arise.

“Till the seats are vacant, it can be used for anything," says one of the two persons cited above, asking not to be named.

However, such a situation is unlikely to arise as most of its legislators have consolidated behind the Congress especially after the November bypoll victories and the results of the Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh assembly elections, which saw the Congress emerging on top, according to this leader.

The BJP has made at least two unsuccessful attempts to take power in Karnataka since the hung verdict in May. The party claimed that several legislators from the Congress and the JD(S) are in touch with it and are ready “to make the jump".

“If they attempt an Operation Kamala, we will also launch a counter operation," said the second person cited above who is a JD(S) leader.

The coalition is also in touch with at least five leaders who were willing to defect to it, said this leader. Operation Kamala is a term coined in 2008 after the BJP allegedly devised a way to get opposition party legislators to defect in the aftermath of the assembly elections that year to get a majority.

The BJP, which emerged as the single largest party with 104 seats in May, hopes that the coalition will implode on its own, especially after the removal of influential Congress leader Ramesh Jarkiholi from the cabinet to accommodate his brother, Satish Jarkiholi. With just 22 out of the 34 portfolios available with the Congress, the party has had to make difficult choices, upsetting several of its senior leaders and fuelling the already prevalent dissent.

Coming to power in Karnataka would give the BJP a big boost in south India, where it has little or no representation. This is especially true in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, where it aims to gain a foothold in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The BJP claims to be “in touch" with legislators across the aisle, it has denied all allegations of trying to poach disgruntled leaders or bring down the government.

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