Bengaluru: The coalition government in Karnataka on Wednesday appeared to have dodged another bullet as many of its legislators, presumed to be missing or likely to defect, returned to dispel speculation that they were planning to switch sides to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy of Janata Dal (Secular) said the media was playing into BJP’s ploy and sensationalizing baseless speculation.
“There is no speculation that this government would get destabilised," G. Parameshwara, deputy chief minister and senior Congress leader said on Wednesday.
Bheema Naik, one of the Congress legislators reported to have gone incommunicado, on Wednesday said that he was away on a personal trip to Goa.
“It is true that my phone was switched off for a day but I have been in touch with all state leaders," he said and added that there was no question of joining the BJP.
Though the coalition partners appeared relaxed, the threat of disgruntled members deserting the government looms large and depends on the outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which the JDS and Congress have decided to fight jointly.
Senior Congress leaders also claimed that at least one of the two independents who withdrew their support on Tuesday to the coalition had decided to join the coalition again.
Several others, including the chief minister, said that the legislators, purportedly holed up in Mumbai and rumoured to defect, were only out of touch for the media but not the government, which vouched for their loyalty.
Though the BJP has denied allegations of attempts to poach legislators, the saffron outfit has actively pursued several members of the coalition, according to multiple leaders from both parties.
The BJP leaders were hopeful that some of the disgruntled legislators, who missed out on Cabinet berths, would switch sides to help the saffron outfit take another shot at forming a government, that would help boost its morale ahead of the Lok Sabha elections and give it a firm footing to help penetrate into other south Indian states where it has little or no presence in terms of electoral representation.
But the Congress managed to contain dissent within its ranks in the cabinet expansion by accommodating many seniors who could have dented the party’s prospects in the upcoming general elections.
The two ministerial berths currently with the JDS could also be used to woo BJP legislators into its fold if the saffron party does succeed in luring members of the coalition, Mint reported last month.
BJP leaders have countered the coalition’s allegations stating that it was the former who was under threat of being poached.
All 104 BJP legislators have been staying in a resort at Gurugram for almost a week and are expected to return only later this week.
Though this may be a last-ditch effort by the BJP to bring down the coalition government before parliamentary elections, the ruling alliance has enough to fear from within its own relationship, especially with the two parties playing hardball before the Lok Sabha seat sharing discussions.
Though the two parties have formed an alliance at the state and national levels, their grassroot workers continue to be opposed to the idea especially in south Karnataka where both of them are traditional rivals.
Analysts say that this round of ‘crisis’ did not change much at the ground level except the two independents pulling out of the coalition.
Though the BJP is only nine short of the 113 simple majority figure, it would require defecting legislators to resign to bring down the half-way mark as the whip would disqualify those making the switch, if any.
“Unless 14 people come forward and resign, there is not going to be any impact," Narendar Pani, political analyst and faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies said.