Bengaluru: The opposition Congress termed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Karnataka ‘immoral’ as it is formed with the support of turncoats whose disqualification was upheld by the Supreme Court, a senior party leader said on Saturday.
“The induction of the 10 newly-elected BJP legislators in the 6-month-old Yediyurappa government on Thursday confirmed our charge that the ruling party rewarded the turncoats for bringing down our 14-month-old coalition government with the JD-S and allowing the saffron party return to power in July 2019,” Congress leader V.S. Ugrappa told IANS in an interview here.
Accusing the saffron party of using money and muscle power to force 17 rebels, including 14 from the Congress and 3 JD-S resign from assembly in July, Ugrappa said the BJP had no moral right to be in power as it did not get a clear mandate in the May 2018 assembly elections to form the government then.
The 10 defectors made cabinet ministers on February 6 are Shivaram Hebbar, Shrimanth Patil, B.C. Patil, Ramesh Jarkiholi, Narayana Gowda, K. Gopalaiah, S.T. Somashekar, Byrathi Basavaraj, K. Sudhakar and Anand Singh.
“As the BJP won only 105 seats and fell 9 short-off the halfway mark (113) for a simple majority in the 225-member Assembly, B.S. Yediyurappa resigned on May 19, 2018, three days after forming the government instead of facing the trail of strength in the House as directed by the Supreme Court,” recalled Ugrappa.
In a post-poll alliance, the Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) formed a coalition government on May 23, 2018 to keep the BJP out of power and prevent President’s rule in the southern state due to split verdict in the assembly elections, with the outgoing Congress winning 80 seats and JD-S 37.
“As the BJP was desperate to return to power by any means, it attempted to topple our coalition government twice by engineering defections in 2018. When it failed miserably, it lured our rebels to resign from the assembly, promising them to make ministers with plum posts if it formed the government again. Unfortunately, our rebels fell for its bait,” Ugrappa lamented.
Though former Assembly Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar disqualified all the 17 rebels for defying their party whip and restrained them for re-contesting till the 5-year tenure of the present House lapsed in May 2023 under the Anti-Defection Act, 13 of them re-contested in the December 5 by-elections on a BJP ticket after the apex court in November allowed them to contest again.
In the 15 Assembly by-elections, the BJP won 12, including 9 Congress defectors and 2 JD-S defectors, while one Congress turncoat (M.T.B. Nagaraj) and another JD-S turncoat (A.H. Vishwanath) lost to an Independent and a Congress candidate.
Two Assembly seats — Muski in the state’s north Raichur district and RR Nagar in southwest Bengaluru are vacant, as by-elections to them are withheld due to litigation in the Karnataka High Court on the results of the May 2018 assembly elections.
“Although the BJP claims to be a party with a difference and denies role in the rebels resigning from the Assembly, their absence in the House on July 23 in defiance of their party whip led to the defeat of the confidence motion former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy moved on July 18 to prove majority in the house and the collapse of our 14-month-old coalition government on the same night.
“Resignations, staying away from the Assembly’s crucial monsoon session and camping at star hotels in Mumbai for over three weeks in July were all stage-managed by the BJP and its top brass, including its then national president and Union Home Minister Amit Shah from New Delhi with the party’s former government in Maharashtra playing the host,” asserted Ugrappa.
As the BJP resorted to similar tactics in the adjacent Goa state, Ugrappa said the Congress would seek an amendment to the Anti-Defection Act to ensure disqualified legislators are barred from re-contesting in by-elections till the assembly term ends.
“Though the top court upheld the disqualification of the rebels, it allowed them to re-contest in the by-elections, negating the objective of the anti-defection law, which was to prevent switching parties, poaching or horse-trading. The turncoats took advantage of the loophole in the provision after the Election Commission too allowed disqualified MLAs of the ruling AIADMK to re-contest in the neighbouring Tamil Nadu state in 2018,” Ugrappa pointed out.