Indicating that the threat of defection of its legislators to the BJP still loomed large, the Congress in Karnataka shifted its legislators to a luxury resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru, immediately after the legislature party meeting convened on Thursday evening to conduct a head count.
The Congress Legislature Party (CLP), which met under the sword of disqualification of those who skipped the meeting, witnessed the abstention of only four legislators, much to the temporary relief of the party leaders.
While Umesh Jadhav of Chincholi wrote to CLP leader Siddaramaiah, pleading his inability to attend the meeting due to illness, B Nagendra of Ballari Rural claimed that he was busy with a court matter.
Former minister Ramesh Jarkhiholi, MLA from Gokak and the principal dissident, and Mahesh Kumatalli of Atheni, boycotted the meet without offering any reason.
The CLP began more than two hours behind schedule as the leaders were anxious to ensure the presence of all 79 party MLAs, minus the Speaker, KR Ramesh Kumar. News cameras captured Basavakalyan MLA Narayana Rao virtually running towards his car at Bengaluru airport to rush to Vidhana Soudha on receiving a call from Siddaramaiah.
After a brief meeting, which lasted less than half an hour, Siddaramaiah told reporters that he would be issuing notices to four absentees – two of them who had sought permission and two others, Jarkhiholi and Kumatalli, who deliberately stayed away – and seek their explanations. After consulting the party high command, disciplinary action would be initiated against them.
He accused the BJP leadership, including Prime Minister Narandra Modi and party president Amit Shah, of being involved in ‘Operation Lotus’ to destabilise the Congress-JD(S) coalition government in Karnataka.
There were unconfirmed reports late Thursday evening that Ramesh Jarkhiholi would resign as Congress MLA on Friday.
Soon after the CLP meeting, the legislators were huddled together and sent to Eagleton resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru city. The central observer, KC Venugopal, said the legislators “would stay in the resort as long as required.”
Reeling under the BJP’s determined bid to woo dissident legislators for the past few days, Congress decided on calling the CLP meeting to take a head count and to clearly identify those who were wavering. The notice for the meeting included a ‘whip’ invoking provisions of the anti-defection law and threatening disqualification of those who stayed away.
Legal experts were not convinced whether a whip would be applicable for a CLP meeting held outside the legislature. Disqualification is usually invoked when members leave the party individually and associate themselves with another party or vote against the wishes of the party.
BJP, meanwhile, decided to bring back to Bengaluru its 100-odd legislators confined to a 5-star hotel at Gurugram, Haryana for the past one week.
BJP state president BS Yeddyurappa ridiculed the Congress leaders for holding CLP meeting under the ‘gun’ of disqualification and said the Congress was even now trying to lure BJP legislators with offers of “crores of rupees” to defect to its side. The BJP, after moving its legislators from Gurugram to Bengaluru, is likely to keep them together at a safe hideout for some more time.
The battle to woo legislators is likely to intensify when the state legislature begins its budget session on 8 February.
Updated Date: Jan 18, 2019 22:44:08 IST