Just before noon on Saturday, Congress strongman D.K. Shivakumar made frantic calls to other senior leaders in the party, asking them to join him at the assembly speaker’s office and bring back the 12 disgruntled legislators, who had gathered there to resign.
No one responded and Shivakumar, who has successfully handled such tasks before, had to do this alone. He managed to convince at least four of the disgruntled legislators to leave with him, three of whom were close aides of former chief minister Siddaramaiah. The others headed to the Karnataka governor’s office. Shivakumar was again left all alone to convince the four legislators, Ramalinga Reddy, Munirathna, S.T. Somashekar and Byrathi Basavaraj. They left and joined the others at the governor’s residence and then were bundled away in a charter aircraft to Mumbai.
The same evening at Siddaramaiah’s house, Shivakumar walked out of a meeting miffed by the reaction of senior party leaders who were willing to wait it out rather than do anything about the crisis, said one person present at the meeting.
The Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), had let the dissent fester and were still unable to decide on the next course of action in the face of a real threat.
“It’s like no one in the Congress wants this government to survive," said one person familiar with the developments, asking not to be named. Two days before Vijayanagar MLA, Anand Singhresigned on 1 July, chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy left for the US to attend personal events while Congress chief Dinesh Gundu Rao left for London a day after. The absence of the top leadership added to the woes of the coalition. As many as 12 Congress and JD(S) legislators resigned on Saturday.
Despite this, Siddaramaiah attended a private event on Sunday and on his way out, said there was no threat to the government.
The JD(S) is likely to hold Siddaramaiah more responsible for the mess than the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lending weight to the theory that the former chief minister was trying to settle scores against his former party and its chief H.D. Deve Gowda. Siddaramaiah, like many others in the alliance, also shared the belief that remaining in a coalition would do more harm to both parties as it has aggravated the cadre, who can barely see eye-to-eye in most of the southern parts of the state.
The Congress and JD(S) may have eroded a significant portion of their support bases in the past year and this would impact the very survival of both parties in the state, say analysts, adding that the two parties would find it difficult to ensure that the coalition government survives the full term.
The Congress had barely acted to contain the situation after the parliamentary elections. It is now weighing the possibility of taking the legal route and possibly using the disqualification petition against Ramesh Jarkiholi and Mahesh Kumathalli. However, it hasn’t done much so far, as most dissenting voices pointed out on Saturday.
Measures proposed to defuse the situation include accommodating disgruntled elements in the cabinet and even handing the top post back to the Congress.
However, not everyone agrees. “There was a time for this but it has passed," said one senior legislator who resigned on Saturday. The BJP says it expects at least five more to resign.