‘Ghar wapsi’ for Bombay Boys: Poached Karnataka MLAs wish to return to Congress
Recently, some of the “mitras” have shown a willingness to return to Congress. Former minister ST Somashekhar (centre) is one of them. File photo

‘Ghar wapsi’ for 'Bombay Boys': Poached Karnataka MLAs wish to return to Congress

The recent poll results have made the Congress leaders who had defected to the BJP during Operation Lotus helpless, and Congress has reasons to take them back

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It seems to be “ghar wapsi” time for the “Bombay Boys” of Karnataka. Many of the Congress leaders, whom the BJP had poached to form the BS Yediyurappa government in 2019, are now knocking on the doors of their former party to let them back in. Interestingly, some of them are winning candidates.

In what was termed “Operation Lotus”, the BJP had poached 13 MLAs from the Congress, three from the JD(S), and one Independent to topple the HD Kumaraswamy-led JDS-Congress coalition government. Of them, 16 were given tickets to contest the by-elections in 2020 and 14 went on to win.

These 17 MLAs were dubbed the “Bombay Boys” for camping in a hotel in Mumbai after resigning from their MLA posts. Some also labelled them “Mitra Mandali” (friends’ group) for remaining united till the BSY government was formed and facing a case in Supreme Court for their dismissal under the Anti Defection Law.

Recently, some of these “mitras” have shown a willingness to return to Congress. Former minister ST Somashekhar is one of them. He met Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar, stated that he was not happy with the BJP leadership, and indirectly expressed his wish to join back.

Another leader, Shivaram Hebbar, said he would make his final decision after holding discussions in Bengaluru. Sources claimed several leaders, including winning candidates, will be joining Congress again in September, and discussions are ongoing.

The Federal spoke to a few leaders from both the Congress and the BJP camps to understand the reasons for the “ghar wapsi”, and found out that the recent Assembly election results have made these leaders helpless.

Reasons for ‘ghar wapsi’

BJP culture: All these leaders have a secular vote base and grew politically in a Congress atmosphere, which allows local leaders more freedom than in the BJP. In the BJP atmosphere, they have to listen to the instructions of the Sangh Parivar and practise its culture. They are reportedly facing embarrassment simply by expressing their secular stand. Veteran BJP leaders and workers are reportedly yet to accept them in the party and are not allowing their followers to grow in the BJP.

BSY factor: There is a leadership crisis in the state BJP, which is also weakening these MLAs politically. They believed Yediyurappa and joined the BJP. Now BSY is cornered and they feel insecure and lonely. They can’t even find a leader in the party they can follow. The BJP’s national general secretary BL Santosh, who had promised them support, is said to be not on good terms with them after the assembly elections.

Caste factor: All of these leaders belong to two communities — the Vokkaligas and the Kurubas. These are the stakeholders of the electoral politics in the Old Mysuru region. Leaders likes ST Somashekhar, Gopalaiah, and others want to retain their caste base in their constituencies and are worried that other second-line leaders may emerge with the help of KPCC chief DK Shivakumar.

BBMP elections: These leaders have a stronghold in the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) wards that come under their respective Assembly constituencies. Several second-rung leaders and former BBMP corporators, who are these MLAs’ supporters, are willing to join the Congress again considering the BBMP elections. Their open statements have got the MLAs even more worried.

Pressure from contractors: Most of the BBMP contractors are supporters of one or the other of these leaders and they all have to listen to Shivakumar now since he holds the Bengaluru Development Ministry. Besides, he is in charge of Bengaluru Urban district. Many of these powerful contractors’ bills are now reportedly pending, prompting them to pressure the MLAs.

Congress guarantees: The Congress’s five electoral guarantees, including free bus rides for women, free rice for BPL people, free power for up to 200 units, etc., are tilting their vote base towards the Congress in their constituencies. In Bengaluru, mainly the slums and middle-class living areas are these MLAs’ vote banks, which are now getting drawn towards the Congress. It will affect the BBMP elections, too.

Why would Congress welcome the turncoats again?

Caste base: Four of these MLAs are from Bengaluru. Somashekhar and Gopalaiah are from the Vokkaliga community, Bairathi Basavarj from Kuruba, and Muniratna from Naidu, a backward community. Shivakumar, who wishes to see himself as a Vokkaliga mass leader in the Old Mysuru region, already has the support of the Vokkaliga MLAs from that region. Electoral trend shows that the Vokkaligas are supporting the Congress because of him. This will affect the results in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, BBMP elections, and also the Zilla Panchayat elections, and DKS wants to grab the opportunity.

BBMP elections: Another important factor is that the Congress wants to sweep the BBMP elections, and the said leaders have strongholds in their respective constituencies. They were the reasons for the Congress to have a hold in the BBMP earlier. Therefore, they are important for the party to bag the BBMP, which comes under Shivakumar’s Ministry of Bengaluru Development and Town Planning. Shivakumar is said to be planning out a few strategies for some BJP and JD(S) leaders from the Old Mysuru and North Karnataka belts to join the Congress, too, keeping in mind the local body and parliamentary elections.

Who is willing to return to the Congress and who is not

BJP MLAs ST Somashekhar, Byrathi Basabvaraj, K Gopalaiah, and N Muniratna from the Bengaluru region and Shivaram Hebbar from Yellapur (North Kanara).

Ramesh Jarkiholi is reportedly not willing to return to the Congress for now, as he is not on good terms with Shivakumar.

How many of the 'Bombay Boys' won the 2023 polls?

Of the 17 'Bombay Boys', 15 were given tickets from the BJP this year. Nine were defeated, while six won the elections. Pratapgouda Patil, BC Patil, Dr K Sudhakar, MTB Nagaraj, Shrimant Patil, Mahesh Kumathalli, KC Narayana Gowda, and R Shankar lost the elections. Anand Singh had fielded his son Siddarth Singh, who too had lost the elections.
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