Karnataka political turmoil: Congress power struggle intensifies as BJP faces accusations of luring MLAs

Congress MLA Ravi Ganiga claimed that the BJP approached five Congress MLAs with offers that include ₹50 crore, a ministerial position, and a meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published Oct 30, 2023 | 9:00 AMUpdatedOct 30, 2023 | 9:00 AM

File photo of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar, both holding green flags.

In Karnataka’s political arena, on one hand, an internal storm is brewing within the Congress, unravelling the intricate web of power dynamics between two influential factions.

On the other hand, a first-time Congress MLA recently levelled serious allegations against the BJP — that of trying to lure five of its MLAs.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s camp and the loyalists of Deputy Chief Minister and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) chief DK Shivakumar are currently entangled in a complex standoff over the sensitive matter of power distribution after two-and-a-half years.

After leaders from both factions issued statements and counter-statements, Shivakumar warned them against making public statements.

While the deputy chief minister is busy welcoming Opposition leaders — mainly from the BJP — into the party fold, a first-time MLA from Mandya accused the BJP of attempting to destabilise the Congress government in the state.

Meanwhile, BJP leaders refuted the claims and demanded evidence for the Congress MLA’s accusations.

Also read: MLA claims Shivakumar will become CM halfway through term

‘5 Congress MLAs approached’

Against the backdrop of the significant political developments in Karnataka, first-time Congress MLA Ravikumar Gowda Ganiga from Mandya has created another flutter.

Ravi Ganiga, a close aide and loyalist of Shivakumar, asserted that a clandestine team of “three saffron-cadre leaders is actively enticing lawmakers to defect”.

He told reporters on 27 October: “Five Congress MLAs have been approached with offers that include ₹50 crore, a ministerial position, and a meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah.”

He alleged: “Three unemployed BJP leaders, reminiscent of the same group that contributed to the downfall of the JD(S)-Congress coalition government in 2019, have resurfaced.”

Ganiga, however, also said: “Our MLAs are not succumbing to these offers. They are promptly reporting such attempts to both the chief minister and the deputy chief minister.”

The allegations bear an eerie resemblance to the infamous 2019 “Operation Lotus”, during which 17 lawmakers — 13 from Congress and three from the JD(S) — defected to the BJP and helped it come to power under the leadership of BS Yediyurappa.

“NR Santhosh, a former close aide of Yediyurappa who unsuccessfully contested the Arsikere Assembly seat on a JD(S) ticket [in May], is one of the key conspirators in luring Congress MLAs. An MLC from the Old Mysuru region and an MLA from Belagavi are the other two conspirators,” said Ganiga, refraining from revealing the identities of all three.

He also claimed: “Santhosh recently met Congress MLAs at the Goldfinch Hotel in Bengaluru. If he doesn’t speak about it, we will release evidence.”

Asserting the gravity of his claims, Ganiga insisted, “I am not cooking this up. As a responsible MLA, I am not planting this. Five Congress MLAs have been contacted and offered money and a flight to Delhi. When the time comes, we will make those MLAs address a press conference.”

Also read: Congress MLA’s CM change statement causes buzz in Karnataka

Factional feud in Karnataka Congress

The internal dynamics of the Congress party in Karnataka have undergone a tumultuous shift, with factions aligned with Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar now in a state of discord over power-sharing.

It may be recalled that the Congress dethroned the BJP in the state in May by winning a whopping 135 Assembly seats.

However, electing the chief minister turned out to be a big headache for the Congress high command, as Shivakumar asserted his right to the top post.

According to sources in the party: “Shivakumar came to terms on appointing Siddaramaiah as the chief minister, only when the high command assured him that he would be handed over power after two-and-a-half years.”

With regard to this power-sharing, leaders, including ministers Dr HC Mahadevappa, K Rajanna, and MB Patil from Siddaramaiah’s faction, are arguing that no such agreement took place, and that Siddaramaiah would be the chief minister for the full tenure.

“Why power-sharing? We bat in favour of Siddaramaiah to continue as the chief minister for five years. They might claim that power should be shared between two leaders for a period of two-and-a-half years, but the high command will take the final call,” said Rajanna.

Countering their statements, leaders of Shivakumar’s faction — including MLAs NA Harris and Ravi Ganiga — batted in favour of the deputy chief minister.

Ganiga told reporters: “It is cent percent [sure] that Shivakumar will become the chief minister after two-and-a-half years. He has worked for the party. The government is functioning smoothly now. When the time comes, everything will be decided.”

Also read: Karnataka Cong may see reshuffle ahead of 2024 Lok Sabha polls

High-level meeting in state   

Amidst the renewed contention over power-sharing, Siddaramaiah, accompanied by senior Cabinet ministers Dr HC Mahadevappa and Satish Jarkiholi, engaged in a dinner meeting hosted at the residence of Home Minister Dr G Parameshwara.

This gathering assumed considerable significance given the current political landscape, fuelling speculation that Siddaramaiah was contemplating playing the Dalit chief minister card after half the tenure, potentially reneging from extending support to Shivakumar.

In response to queries about the meeting, Jarkiholi told reporters in Bengaluru: “We didn’t just convene for dinner. The home minister extended the invitation. When four political figures come together for a meal, it entails discussions on various political developments and strategies. I cannot disclose all the details.”

Pressed on the possibility of Parameshwara becoming the next chief minister, Mahadevappa said: “Siddaramaiah will continue as the chief minister for the full five years. The dinner was at the behest of the home minister, and we attended. The chief minister’s post is not vacant.”

The dinner meeting added an intriguing layer to the evolving political dynamics within the Congress in Karnataka.

Responding to the development pertaining to power-sharing, Siddaramaiah told reporters: “The high command will take a call on power-sharing.”

Also read: Transfer demand pits Karnataka minister’s staff against MLA’s PA

Shivakumar threatens to slap notices

Dismayed over the tussle between the factions over the power-sharing, Shivakumar warned them of action in the form of notices to those party leaders who made public statements in this regard.

The deputy chief minister also said that he was aware of the BJP’s efforts to lure the party MLAs, and said it would not succeed.

Shivakumar told reporters in Bengaluru: “The party MLAs should not make any statements either on internal party affairs or power-sharing. This is the final warning to all the party MLAs. I am also requesting them. If it is repeated, then I would have no option but to serve notices to them.”

With the two factions within the Congress engaging in a war of words, these developments pose a significant challenge to the party’s stability and cohesion.

They also carry echoes of the troubled times witnessed during the previous “Operation Lotus”.

Related: Congress names five for Karnataka Legislative Council polls

BJP demands evidence

Meanwhile, taking exception to Ganiga’s accusations, BJP leaders refuted them and demanded evidence.

Former deputy chief minister and BJP leader CN Ashwath Narayan told reporters: “Is there any evidence for their allegations? The Congress has 135 MLAs. Is it even possible to lure MLAs to topple the government?”

He added: “Why is the Congress worried when it has sufficient numbers [in the Assembly]? These are all baseless allegations. People are unhappy with the Congress government.”

BJP MLC Ravikumar told South First: “Does anyone believe his allegations? The party is not making any efforts to destabilise the government. The Congress has sufficient numbers.”

He added: “The BJP high command is concentrating on the five upcoming Assembly elections, and preparations are in full swing for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. If they have any evidence, let them present it.”