Hyderabad: In a big jolt to the Congress in Telangana, as many as 12 of its 18 MLAs Thursday sought merger of their group with the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi.
The MLAs met Assembly Speaker Pocharam Srinivas Reddy and gave him a representation in this regard after Tandur MLA Rohith Reddy became the 12th Congress legislator to jump ship, boosting the strength of the defectors to two-thirds of the state Congress Legislature Party.
Since early March, as many as 11 Congress MLAs had switched sides before Rohith Reddy moved over to the ruling camp Thursday.
Congress strength in the 119-member House came down to 18 after Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee President N Uttam Kumar Reddy tendered his resignation from the Assembly Wednesday after being elected to the Lok Sabha from Nalgonda in the recent elections.
"This is completely illegal. KCR (TRS President and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao) is cheating the mandate of the people of Telangana," Uttam Kumar Reddy told PTI as he held protests on the Assembly premises along with Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader M Bhatti Vikramarka, and senior party leaders, following the move by the defectors.
Rohith Reddy, earlier in the day, met TRS working President and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao's son KT Rama Rao and pledged his loyalty to the ruling outfit.
Senior Congress legislator Gandra Venkata Ramana Reddy told reporters that the 12 MLAs decided to work with the Chief Minister for the "development of the State."
"We held a special meeting of Congress Legislature Party. All the 12 members support the leadership of Chief Minister KCR and requested to work with him. We gave a representation to the Speaker and urged him to merge us with the TRS party," Ramana Reddy said.
He claimed the people of the state were with them and supported their move.
If the Speaker accepts their request, the Congress may lose the Opposition Party status as its strength will come down to six.
AIMIM led by Hyderabad Lok Sabha member Asaduddin Owaisi has seven members in the Assembly, while the BJP has one.
The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) had won two seats in the December polls but one of them had also announced his decision to join the TRS.
As 12 MLAs account for two-third of the CLP, which has an effective strength of 18, they will not attract provisions under the anti-defection law, political analysts said.
The TRS won 88 seats in the Assembly polls held in December last year.
Anticipating the move by the TRS, CLP leader M Bhatti Vikramarka, who is the Leader of Opposition, had recently met the Assembly Speaker and urged him to issue a notice to the Congress before taking any action on the merger issue.
"People voted for them... for Congress. Buying those (Congress) MLAs by KCR is shameful. People of Telangana will not tolerate him for such shameful activities.
You cannot remove the main opposition party (from the Assembly). You better shift the Assembly to your (KCR's) farmhouse," Uttam Kumar Reddy said during the protest.
He alleged that Speaker Srinivas Reddy was not available despite repeated attempts to reach him.
"We will fight this out democratically. We have already filed a petition in the High Court (on the defections issue)," he further said.
Assembly marshals took Uttam Kumar Reddy, Vikramarka and several other leaders into preventive custody and handed them over to the police for protesting within the assembly premises.
Separately, police rounded up about 20 Congress workers outside the assembly, a senior police official said.
In the last Assembly, TRS managed to merge TDP Legislature Party with it by attracting 12 out of 15 MLAs who won in the 2014 polls.
In the recently held Lok Sabha polls, the Congress won three seats, improving its tally from two in the 2014 polls.
The TRS bagged lower-than-expected nine Lok Sabha seats, while the BJP picked up four.
TRS, however, swept the rural local body polls in Telangana, results of which were declared this week, winning a majority of the Zilla Parishad Territorial Constituency and Mandal Parishad Territorial Constituency seats.
Polls for MPTC and ZPTC were held last month.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.