The Congress in Karnataka on Wednesday put up a united face, dismissing speculation about a possible exit of dissidents that could bring down the coalition government.
Senior Congress leaders, including former chief minister Siddaramaiah, state party chief Dinesh Gundu Rao, and Congress Karnataka in-charge K.C. Venugopal repeatedly said the party enjoyed the support of all it members.
“All 79 (Congress members) are intact," Siddaramaiah said at a press conference in Bengaluru. “We are as steady as a rock," he said.
“All Congress-JD(S) leaders are saying unanimously that they are with us," Venugopal had said earlier.
Claims by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that it is ready for fresh elections in the state has forced the traditional rivals—Congress and Janata Dal (Secular)— to reconcile their differences to save the coalition government led by H. D. Kumaraswamy of the JD(S). Despite heavy losses in the Lok Sabha elections, both parties are trying to keep the coalition afloat. The two parties have not extended its state-level alliance to urban local bodies (ULBs) and other local elections to not aggravate its cadre, who are opposed to this coalition arrangement.
However, seven legislators did not attend the Congress legislature party (CLP) meeting on Wednesday, sparking speculation of their imminent exit from the party.
Ramesh Jarkiholi, who had earlier announced his resignation from the party after he was dropped from the cabinet last year, and R. Roshan Baig, who had lashed out at the senior leadership of the Congress, were among those who did not attend the meeting.
“Some people did not come because of various reasons and have informed us," Siddaramaiah said. He, however, said that Jarkiholi and Baig had not explained their absence.
Mahesh Kumathalli and B. Nagendra, who were allegedly in talks with the BJP to switch sides and Dr. K. Sudhakar, who had hit out at the alliance, attended the meeting.
The senior leadership led by Venugopal, the national general secretary (organization) of the party, held back-to-back meetings on Wednesday with members of the state unit in Bengaluru to help quell dissent among a significant section of the party.
Jarkiholi, R. Shankar (Independent) and B.C. Patil are likely to be offered ministerial berths to help quell the dissent.
The Congress is dealing with the tough task of placating disgruntled leaders with just three available vacancies. Senior Congress leaders say that they will not attempt to drop anyone from the cabinet as it could fuel the already simmering dissent.
“There are three vacancies and we are thinking of filling them," Siddaramaiah, the chairman of the coordination and monitoring committee, said earlier in the day.
“We will seek the opinion of senior leaders, take a unanimous decision and then move forward," Venugopal said.
Venugopal met Kumaraswamy, Siddaramaiah, deputy chief minister G. Parameshwara of the Congress, Dinesh Gundu Rao, irrigation minister D.K. Shivakumar of the Congress, and other leaders.
Dissent among Congress legislators resurfaced after the Lok Sabha results in which the JD(S)-Congress coalition was decimated by the BJP, which won 25 out of the 28 parliamentary seats. The JD(S) and Congress got just one seat each. The debacle also reignited differences between the coalition partners, further threatening their coalition government.