After the BJP’s Gurgaon retreat, it is the turn of Karnataka’s Congress lawmakers for a staycation, at a Bengaluru resort. The same where they were sequestered just seven months ago, when the elections threw up a hung verdict and lawmakers were flying between rival parties.
Four Congress lawmakers were AWOL on Friday as the party rallied its flock for a headcount amid what it suspects is a BJP strategy to topple the Janata Dal Secular-Congress government headed by Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy. Two more rebels had “returned” to the party fold on Wednesday.
The absentees ignored calls, which caused some disquiet among the leadership of lingering attempts to break them.
The 76 Congress lawmakers who did show up for the legislature party meeting were rewarded with an instant holiday package. They were all bundled into buses and driven to the Eagleton Golf Resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru.
“They are being taken to a resort to keep them safe from the BJP,” former chief minister Siddaramaiah, the leader of the Congress legislature party, told media.
Siddaramaiah and another leader, DK Shivakumar, have been accusing the BJP’s BS Yeddyurappa, a former chief minister, of offering inducements to Congress lawmakers in a renewed plan to take power in Karnataka before the national election, due by May. They allege that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah are completely behind the plan.
“All MLAs wanted to show unity, they wanted to send a message. We are sure of our numbers. Everybody is there except three,” said Mr Shivakumar, the Congress’s troubleshooter in Karnataka and the man credited with guarding the flock against “poaching” attempts way back in May, after the state elections.
“We are against resort politics,” he sought to clarify.
Action will be taken against the “missing” lawmakers; Umesh Jadhav, Ramesh Jarkiholi and Mahesh Kumathalli are believed to be at a Mumbai hotel and B Nagendra, the fourth absentee, told reporters he had a court hearing. Ramesh Jarkiholi has been seething since he was dropped as a minister. Well after the meeting began, Umesh Jadhav sent a note saying he was unwell and couldn’t travel.
“I will send notice to the absentees and seek an explanation. Then I will speak to the high command,” said Mr Siddaramaiah.
Eagleton, with a pool, spacious rooms and various sports activities, is tried and tested in “resort politics”. Last year, the same Congress bunch had stayed there during government formation moves. In 2017, the resort hosted Gujarat Congress lawmakers who were in demand ahead of a Rajya Sabha election that became a thriller.
Earlier this week, 104 BJP lawmakers checked into a resort in Gurgaon near Delhi as speculation peaked that the ruling coalition in Karnataka was on the verge of collapse. The buzz intensified after two independent lawmakers withdrew support from the Kumaraswamy-led government.
The Congress repeatedly called it a redux of “Operation Lotus (the BJP’s election symbol)” – the name given for a past BJP attempt to lure away rival lawmakers. The term was coined in 2008 when the BJP allegedly engineered defections of opposition legislators to ensure that its government headed by Mr Yeddyurappa remains stable.
After the return of two lawmakers, the ruling coalition leaders said the BJP had aborted its coup attempt. Mr Yeddyurappa also confirmed that over 100 BJP leaders would finally return to Bengaluru.5
The JDS-Congress alliance has 118 lawmakers in the 224-member Karnataka assembly where the majority mark is 113.