Karnataka Assembly polls, rebel MLAs, Congress, JD(S), BJP, Siddaramaiah, Yediyurappa, DK Sivakumar
AH Vishwanath, a former JD(S) legislator, who led the team of rebel MLAs to Mumbai to topple the JD(S)-Congress coalition government, is said to have taken the initiative to persuade the former turncoats to return to the Congress. File photo

With eye on polls, Karnataka MLAs who quit Congress for BJP mull ‘ghar wapsi’

They appear to have ideological differences and concerns over their political future

With elections to the Karnataka Assembly knocking on the door, the southern state is likely to see a spate of defections – this time from the BJP to the Congress – if the current political atmosphere is considered. Sources say, some of the 17 rebel legislators who deserted the Congress and joined the BJP to help BS Yediyurappa form government in 2019, are keen to return to the party fold.

Vishwanath leads the way

AH Vishwanath, a former JD(S) legislator, who led the team of rebel MLAs to Mumbai to topple the JD(S)-Congress coalition government, is said to have taken the initiative to persuade the former turncoats, including ministers in the current BJP government, who feel insecure of their future prospects in the party and want to return to the Congress ahead of the elections.

A former minister, Vishwanath left Congress and joined the JD(S) in 2017 and became an MLA from the Hunsuru constituency. He was made the JD(S) state president, but quit his MLA post and helped the BJP in the ‘Operation Lotus’ to topple the HD Kumaraswamy government. He had whisked away the 16 other rebel MLAs with him to Mumbai for the purpose.

He lost the bypolls from Hunsuru, but was made a member of the Legislative Council.

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Sources, however, said that Vishwanath, has now shown an interest in re-joining the Congress. He recently met Congress leaders Siddaramaiah, DK Shivakumar and his old friend and the AICC president M Mallikarjuna Kharge.

“Vishwanath is a wise and experienced leader. He went to BJP under ‘Operation Lotus’.  He met me and asked me to become a Congressman before he dies. He believes in the principles of the party,” said DK Shivakumar.

The legislators who resigned from Congress and JD(S) to help the BJP form government are Pratap Gouda Patil (Maski), Ramesh Jarkiholi (Gokak), Byrathi Basavaraj (KR Puram), BC Patil (Hirekerur), ST Somashekhar (Yeshwantpur), Mahesh Kumathalli (Athani), MTB. Nagaraj (Hoskote), Anand B Singh (Vijayanagar), Shivram Hebbar (Yellapur), Munirathna (Rajarajeshwarinagar), Roshan Baig (Shivajinagar), and K Sudhakar (Chikkaballapur) from the Congress; K Gopalaiah (Mahalakshmi Layout), AH Viswanath (Hunsur), and Narayana Gowda (Krishnarajapet) from the JD(S) and independents R Shankar (Ranebennur) and H Nagesh (Mulbagal).

‘Many in touch with the Congress’

Highly placed sources said that some of the above leaders, who became ministers in the BJP government have been in touch with Congress and are waiting for the Election Commission to announce the election date to take the next step.

Sources said, the Congress is also trying to woo back leaders like ST Somashekhar, Munirathna Naidu, Bairathi Basavaraju, and MTB Nagaraju into its fold.

In a recent rally, Nagaraju said that he committed a mistake by resigning from the Congress and joining the BJP and that people taught him a lesson. Nagaraju made the statement in front of minister Dr K Sudhakar, who also aided the BJP in ‘Operation Lotus.’

Nagaraju was made MLC to become minister after he lost the bypolls against Sharath Kumar Bachhe Gowda. Sharath is the son BN Bachhe Gowda, the BJP MP from Chikkaballapur constituency. Sharath has now joined the Congress.

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Sources say that Karnataka Congress chief DK Shivakumar and Leader of Opposition in Assembly Siddaramaiah have agreed to welcome those who want to re-join the party. DK Shivakumar once openly stated, “Those who want to join the party are welcome.”

Despite his earlier reservations against turncoats re-joining the party, Siddaramaiah, is said to have embraced a more lenient approach now and has welcomed those who are willing to return. Interestingly, many of the MLAs who resigned from the Congress to join the BJP, earlier identified themselves with the Siddaramaiah camp.

Why MLAs want to return to Congress

Sources say a minister who has tried to gain complete control over Bangalore politics has already completed two rounds of talks with the Congress leaders.

MLAs who had switched to the BJP in 2019 now want to leave the party due to various reasons. While some are worried about their political future in the BJP, others are sceptical about getting a ticket for the next Assembly elections. Others have been finding it difficult to align their ideology with that of the BJP, which in turn derives its style and practises from the RSS.

In the upcoming Assembly elections, the BJP is expected to give tickets to some new faces who are likely to win. Sources say, there is a possibility that some of the MLAs who have won in the same constituency more than three times may be instructed to contest from other constituencies. It is said that some ministers are on the list. Sources say some of the legislators have received instructions from the party’s high command in this regard and the same has raised grave concerns among party men.

Some of the leaders have said that leaving their home constituency and running from a new seat, banking only on the BJP wave, may not be a safe decision to make.

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Simanth Patil and Mahesh Kumatalli, two other MLAs who had joined the BJP from the Congress are worried about not being given ministerial portfolios and have reportedly sent feelers to the Congress to re-join the party.

In the 2019 by-election, Kumatalli was elected as the MLA from the Athani constituency. Lakshmana Savadi gave up the seat for him. Kumatalli would be expected to give up the seat now if the party decides to give the ticket to Athani to Savadi in the next election. When faced with a situation like this at the stage of giving tickets, the BJP high command will check many other factors besides checking a candidate’s ability to win. The party will look at many dimensions before taking any decision, said state BJP leaders.

In 2021, the by-election was held for the Muski assembly constituency. Pratap Gowda Patil, who had won three consecutive times as a Congress candidate in this constituency and achieved a hat-trick, later joined the BJP. He contested in the 2021 by-election as a BJP candidate. However, Basana Gowda Thurvihal, a BJP ticket aspirant from this constituency, rebelled against the party and contested as a Congress candidate, defeating Pratap Gowda and upsetting the BJP leadership.

Even in Hirekerur, the BJP faced the heat of insurgency. Congress legislator BC Patil left the party and joined the BJP to contest the by-elections. Enraged by the development, former MLA UB Bankar left the BJP and joined the Congress.

BJP’s counter

Sources says the BJP has chalked out a strategy to stop the Congress’ move and is trying to make legislators feel safe in its fold.

ST Somashekhar, who represents the Yeshwavanthpur constituency, was worried about actor Jaggesh being given ticket to his seat in the 2023 Assembly elections. However, the BJP put any such speculations to rest by making Jaggesh a member of the Rajya Sabha. The party has also reportedly made attempts to retain Byrathi Basavaraju, currently the Minister of Urban Development, who was worried about facing opposition from BJP leader Nandish Reddy in his constituency Krishnarajapuram. To counter any opposition from Reddy, the party appointed him as the state vice president, sources said.

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The Congress is aiming to strengthen itself in the Old Mysuru region, especially in Bengaluru. Bengaluru has 28 Assembly constituencies and the MLAs who left the party in 2019 are mainly from the Congress. Interestingly, leaders like Munirathna, ST Somashekhar, and Byrathi Basavaraju have immense clout in their constituencies and can fight on their own to win the elections and the Congress is looking to woo such leaders to come back to power in Karnataka.

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