Some of the 14 turncoats who had joined the BJP and triggered the collapse of the Janata Dal Secular-Congress coalition government in Karnataka in 2019 are likely to return to the ruling Congress eyeing a good show in next year’s Lok Sabha polls.
At a time leaders of the BJP and the JDS have been claiming that the Congress government would collapse ahead of the general elections, the ruling party is said to be in touch with several turncoats, including four MLAs, who have sent positive signals.
They were among the 17 lawmakers — 14 from the Congress and three from the JDS — who jumped ship and joined the BJP in an acrimonious “Operation Kamala” in 2019 that led to the collapse of the government helmed by H.D. Kumaraswamy.
Most of the turncoats were since rewarded with plum posts in the state cabinet. However, their change of mind became evident soon after the Congress returned to power by trouncing the BJP in the state elections in May when the party won 135 of the 224 seats.
The BJP has 66 and JDS 19 seats in the Assembly with four seats for Independents and those from smaller parties, two of whom are Congress allies.
A senior Congress source admitted that “our party is in touch with some of them” but did not hazard a guess on how many or when they were likely to rejoin the party.
Of the five turncoats who are now BJP MLAs, four of them are said to be open to the idea of returning to their old party. The party functionary said Byrathi Basavaraj, Shivaram Hebbar, K. Gopalaiah (who moved from the JDS) — all BJP lawmakers — are likely to return to the Congress.
S.T. Somashekar is another BJP MLA who recently set tongues wagging by describing himself as a “disciple” of Siddaramiah and called his deputy chief minister and state Congress president D.K. Shivakumar as his “political guru”.
However, Somashekar dismissed talks about his impending return to the Congress. “It is true I have said a few good words about Siddaramiah when he came to my constituency. But I did not make any political statement,” Somashekar told reporters on Thursday.
The move has to be seen in tandem with the ruling party’s determination to win as many seats as possible in the Lok Sabha polls. Having won just one of the 28 seats in 2019, when its pre-poll alliance with JDS became counter-productive and in turn helped the BJP sweep the polls, the Congress is seeking better fortune this time.
Chief Minister Siddaramiah on Wednesday said he was confident the Congress would win 20 of 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
Shivakumar justified the decision to welcome leaders from the Opposition parties to strengthen the Congress in weak areas. "It is upon the local leaders to take calls based on their requirements. We have told all the local leaders to take everyone into confidence with the main aim of increasing our vote share (and winning possibility),” he told reporters.
State home minister G. Parameshwara said the ill-treatment of some BJP lawmakers had prompted them to return to the Congress. “They feel they are not being treated well in the BJP. Those who realise their mistake (of ditching the Congress) can come back without expecting front seats (ministerships),” he said.
BJP leader C.T. Ravi said he had no reason to believe the speculation. “I have faith in all our leaders and it’s wrong to suspect anyone of making a move (to the Congress) without enough evidence.”
Apart from Kerala, where the Congress-led United Democratic Front is expected to do well, Karnataka is the only southern state where the party is a force to reckon with. The UDF had won 19 of the 20 seats in Kerala in 2019, riding on a wave set off by the presence of Rahul Gandhi who successfully contested from Wayanad.