Prasad Lad, vice-president of BJP’s Maharashtra unit, leaves the Renaissance Hotel, where Congress and JDS MLAs from Karnataka have been holed up, in Mumbai on Monday. Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Prasad Lad, vice-president of BJP’s Maharashtra unit, leaves the Renaissance Hotel, where Congress and JDS MLAs from Karnataka have been holed up, in Mumbai on Monday. Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Absorbing Congress-JD(S) rebels likely to add to BJP's troubles in Karnataka

  • Party’s move to take in defectors from both Congress and JD(S) likely to find opposition from own cadre
  • The best bet for the BJP to form the government would be for all the resignations to be accepted by the Assembly Speaker

Bengaluru: The mass resignations and possible defections from the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition is likely to turn into a problem for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Karnataka, party leaders and political analysts said.

The BJP may find it difficult to accommodate all rebels’ demands without upsetting its cadre, who fought against them in the Assembly polls barely a year ago. Several party leaders said absorbing the rebels could trigger problems such as factionalism and infighting between the old guard and new entrants.

The best bet for the BJP to form the government would be for all the resignations to be accepted by the Assembly Speaker. However, the party cadre is apprehensive of the long-term damage and possible erosion of support base, if the rebels defect, much like what the Congress and JD(S) are facing at present.

BJP supporters were seen lashing out at the party for absorbing rebel Congress legislators in neighbouring Goa and other places where grass root and local equations were not considered.

“If we keep taking in people, we will face bigger problems as our workers will turn against us," said one BJP leader, asking not to be named.

Since 1 July, at least 16 coalition legislators have resigned. Two independents have also withdrawn support to the H.D. Kumaraswamy-led government and extended it to the BJP. Party leaders claim there are at least five more resignations in the offing.

The developments come against the backdrop of news of a BJP-JD(S) coalition gathering steam.

The Congress rebels now demand that those from the BJP who unsuccessfully contested the Assembly elections should not be asked to contest the bypolls. In a recent recorded telephone conversation purportedly between Congress rebel B.C. Patil and BJP’s P. Muralidhar Rao, the former makes a similar request as his opponent had lost by a slender margin.

“We don’t know the source of the rebel’s dissatisfaction and if the BJP cannot fulfil all of it, then the same thing could linger when they cross over," said A. Narayana, political analyst and faculty at the Azim Premji University.

Narayana also pointed to the BJP’s misadventures since the early 2000s, especially in 2008 when its inorganic expansion led to bigger problems for the party that was then hit by factionalism and infighting. The Ballari group, led by iron ore mining kingpin, G. Janardhana Reddy, in 2009 held the B.S. Yeddyurappa government to ransom as he herded around 60 legislators to a Hyderabad resort.

The Congress argued that the merger of R. Shankar’s Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janata Party (KPJP) with the Congress and Shankar later defecting to the BJP is grounds for disqualification. If Ramalinga Reddy returns to the coalition, it would increase its strength to 101, excluding the Speaker. The lone nominated member could possibly vote for the Congress. The BJP, on the other hand, currently stands at 105 and has the support of one independent, H. Nagesh.

However, Kumaraswamy remains confident that he has the numbers to see his government through, when the trust vote comes up for discussion in the Assembly on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Monday has agreed to hear the petition of five more rebel Congress MLAs along with the pending petition of 10 Congress and JD(S) rebel legislators seeking a direction to the Speaker to accept their resignations. This expected to be heard on Tuesday.

The BJP also cannot claim to be a united house as there were differences between the state’s top leaders in the run-up to the 2018 Assembly elections, especially involving Yeddyurappa, the frontrunner for the chief minister’s post if the party had won.

The elevation of B.L. Santosh, who is known to have differences with Yeddyurappa, as BJP’s national joint general secretary, organisation, could add to the long list of problems the latter faces, which include charges of alleged corruption and his style of functioning when he does take the top chair.

“Santosh’s elevation shows the BJP has a bigger plan for south India and it can’t be buying MLAs," said another political analyst, asking not to be named. “Yeddyurappa does not fit into this," he said.

The BJP has claimed innocence in the entire resignation drama. However, a close associate of Yeddyurappa was seen helping rebels board special flights to Mumbai, prompting Congress leaders to contemplate similar “operations" across the aisle if the coalition is brought down.

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