The beleaguered Janata Dal-Secular-Congress coalition government in Karnataka on Tuesday got a breather with state assembly speaker holding that the resignations of 9 out of 14 rebel MLAs are not in order on a day when another Congress legislator quit the party.
Fighting to save the government, the Congress also sought the intervention of Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar in disqualifying its rebel legislators and accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of using money power to lure its members. The BJP has denied the charge.
The fate of the 13-month-old JD-S-Congress government led by Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy is hinged on the Speaker's decision on the resignation of the 14 MLAs including Shivajinagar MLA R Roshan Baig who joined the bandwagon of dissidents on Tuesday. A total of 13 MLAs --10 of the Congress and 3 of the JD-S -- submitted their resignation to the Speaker's office on Saturday triggering a fresh political crisis.
Speaker Kumar told reporters that the resignation letters of 9 out of 14 MLAs of the ruling coalition were not in the prescribed format and he has asked them to submit them properly.
As speculation mounted on the whereabouts of the rebel MLAs after they left a suburban Mumbai hotel on Monday night, they returned to the western metropolis from Satara in western Maharashtra. A couple of them are reported to be camping in Bengaluru.
The legislators were earlier on their way to Goa accompanied by a BJP leader, but cut short the trip and returned to Mumbai, sources said. The two Independent MLA-ministers -- H Nagesh and R Shankar -- who withdrew support on Monday in a further blow to the government are also reported to be in Mumbai.
The Congress rushed senior leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and B K Hariprasad to Bengaluru to help defuse the crisis amid reports that some more MLAs including Sowmya Reddy, daughter of rebel Congress leader and party veteran Ramalinga Reddy, may join the dissident ranks.
Sources said United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi has asked the central party leaders to find a way out to save the government.
Congress's key troubleshooter D K Shivakumar along with a JD-S MLA Shivalinge Gowda are headed to Mumbai to pacify the dissident legislators, according to Congress sources in Bengaluru, a day after all the ministers in the coalition government resigned, paving the way for a cabinet reshuffle to accommodate the rebels.
The rebel MLAs, however, appeared undeterred by the Congress's disqualification move and said there was no question of them withdrawing resignations.
"There is no question of us withdrawing resignation. We have resigned voluntarily and have not indulged in any anti-party activity," Congress MLA S T Somasekhar told reporters.
The ruling coalition's total strength is 116 (Congress-78, JD-S-37 and BSP-1) besides the Speaker.
With the support of the two independents, who on Monday resigned from the ministry, the BJP has 107 MLAs in the 224-member House, where the half-way mark is 113.
If the resignations of the 14 MLAs are accepted, the coalition's tally will be reduced to 102. The Speaker also has a vote.
Putting up a brave face, Kumaraswamy met his JD-S legislators holed up in a resort in the outskirts of Bengaluru and expressed confidence that the operation by the BJP to dislodge the government will fail.
The BJP's state unit on its part demanded the resignation of Kumaraswamy, who it claimed, lost majority after 14 MLAs of the ruling coalition quit.
"I have held discussions with our legislators and we have decided to hold a protest in front of the Gandhi statue at 11 AM, demanding the resignation of Kumaraswamy who has lost majority," party state unit Chief B S Yeddyurappa told reporters.
According to sources, Yeddyurappa is expected to meet Governor Vajubhai Vala at the Raj Bhavan on Wednesday.
Speaker Kumar said that among these 14 resignation letters (submitted earlier), five are in the prescribed format as per the regulations.
"These five are of Anand Singh, Narayana Gowda, Pratap Gouda Patil, Gopalaiah and Ramalinga Reddy," he said.
"Since the other resignation letters were not in the prescribed format, we have sent them a reminder letter that they were not in the prescribed format and hence, if you wish you can submit your resignations properly."
The 14 MLAs who submitted their resignations are S T Somashekhar, Munirathna, B A Basavaraj, Pratap Gouda Patil, B C Patil, Ramesh Jarkiholi, A Shivaram Hebbar, Mahesh Kumathalli, Ramalinga Reddy, Anand Singh and R Roshan Baig (all Congress), and Gopalaiah, Narayana Gowda, Adagur H Vishwanath (all JD-S), the speaker said.
He said he has asked Anand Singh, Pratap Gouda Patil, Narayana Gowda to appear before him for personal hearing on July 12 at 3 pm and 4 pm, though the assembly session will begin on that day.
Since July 13 and 14 are holidays, Kumar said he would hear K Gopalaiah and Ramalinga Reddy on July 15.
Asked whether the resignations submitted to his office were acceptable, Kumar earlier hinted the MLAs might have to personally hand them over, saying '"if everything can happen through postal correspondence, I am not required at all".
The Speaker said he will go through the rule book and consult seniors about the developments, whether the resignations can be accepted or a different course of action was needed.
"I have to make a conscious decision. Every step I take will become history, so I can't be committing a mistake. Future generations should not look at me like an accused," Kumar added.
In a counter offensive , a delegation of Congress leaders met the Speaker and submitted a petition seeking, under the anti-defection law, disqualification of the rebel legislators in line with the decision taken at a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party on Tuesday.
Even as the CLP took the decision to petition the Speaker, Baig, who was suspended recently for alleged anti-party activities, put in his papers.
Briefing media after meeting the Speaker, state Congress president Dinesh Gundu Rao said according to the CLP decision, they submitted the petition seeking action against the MLAs "who have resigned and have joined hands with the BJP to bring down the government".
The anti-defection law applies to them, he claimed.
The CLP meeting, the first after the present crisis hit the government, saw 20 MLAs, including the 11 who had tendered their resignations, being absent.
Congress sources said seven MLAs had sought permission to skip the meeting citing health grounds among other reasons.
Emerging from the meeting, CLP leader and former chief minister Siddaramaiah asked the party MLAs who had resigned to come back or face the consequences.
He alleged that the national leaders of party including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah were directly involved in destabilising the government.