Bengaluru: Rumblings of discontent are getting louder in Karnataka Congress with MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi, who was dropped as a minister, saying it’s just a matter of time before he resigns from the party.
Jarkiholi made the announcement after voting in his Assembly constituency Gokak on Tuesday, the day polling for general elections wraps up in Karnataka. Speaking to reporters outside the polling booth, he said, “Technically, I'm still in the Congress, but I have decided to quit."
While Karnataka BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa had been saying in the run-up to elections that the JD(S)-Congress coalition would collapse after polls, Jarkiholi’s statement could be the first indication of a shaky future for the alliance.
In the weeks preceding the polls, Jarkiholi had been boycotting Congress programmes and was holding meetings of Congress taluk panchayat and gram panchayat members independently, even calling upon them to support BJP candidate Annasaheb Jolle.
Jarkiholi is said to be miffed ever since he was dropped from the state cabinet and his brother Satish was inducted instead.
Jarkiholi and his four brothers belong to the north Karnataka district of Belagavi and all of them have had different political affiliations. They are from the Valmiki/Nayaka caste, designated as Scheduled Tribes.
While Ramesh is the eldest, he and Satish won the 2018 Assembly elections from neighbouring constituencies in Belagavi. The third and fourth brother, Balachandra Jarkiholi and Bhimshi, are with the BJP. Balachandra is an MLA from the district, too, while Bhimshi did not contest elections after being pitted against and losing to Ramesh 10 years ago.
The youngest brother, Lakhan Jarkiholi, is with the Congress and has teamed up with Satish against Ramesh.
Satish, who is said to be close to former chief minister Siddaramaiah, has declared that if Ramesh quits the Congress and Lakhan would contest against Ramesh in the ensuing Gokak bypoll.
"For the last one year, he (Ramesh) has been saying he is 'technically' in Congress. He has tried to bring down the government twice. So we now treat him though he is not in our party. I appeal to Siddaramaiah and (state Congress president) Dinesh Gundu Rao to take the strictest action against him immediately," Satish told News18 Kannada in Belagavi.
He also blamed Ramesh's son-in-law Ambiraya Patil for the dissidence, saying Patil has been pitting his father-in-law against the Congress.
Congress sources said Ramesh did not attend the party's public meeting in Gokak even when Siddaramaiah himself addressed one, and since then, the party has decided to ignore the issue till the resignation becomes official.
But this could be a source of headache for the Congress, as he would be the second MLA to go against the party after Chincholi MLA Umesh Jadhav, who joined the BJP last month. He is now the BJP's candidate for the Gulbarga Lok Sabha seat, while Chincholi bypoll has been announced for May 19.
The party had earlier petitioned Assembly Speaker Ramesh Kumar that four Congress MLAs must be disqualified for defying the party whip -- Ramesh Jarkiholi, Umesh Jadhav, B Nagendra (from Ballari district) and Mahesh Kumathalli (also from Belagavi). The Speaker is yet to take a call though Jadhav has already resigned.
BJP sources say the party would welcome Ramesh the day he quits the Congress. "He has openly said that BS Yeddyurappa is the best leader, you can't find a better leader than him. He is a strong influence within the Valmiki community, has the power to be the decisive factor in seven to eight (Assembly) seats there," said an MLA.
The lawmaker, who did not wish to be identified, said though Ramesh couldn’t openly campaign for the BJP, he was “doing whatever he could subtly”.
BJP MLA Sriramulu, believed to be one of the party's negotiators during the infamous 'Operation Kamala' earlier, said the party is waiting for the Lok Sabha elections to end. "The people are unhappy with this (coalition) government. After this, the government cannot go forward, there will be no credibility," he said.
The BJP is short of nine MLAs to reach the majority mark in the 224-member Karnataka Assembly. Both Congress and JD(S) have time and again accused the BJP of trying to dislodge the government by wooing MLAs with either money or posts. The most serious allegation was the release of an audio recording where Yeddyurappa allegedly speaks to a JD(S) MLA's son, asking him to persuade his father to quit.
There are two vacant Assembly seats in Karnataka. While the JD(S) has 38 MLAs and the Congress 78, the BJP has 104 members in the House. Two Independents were supporting the coalition earlier, but have now distanced themselves.
"It is better to carry out any operation after the Lok Sabha election results as we feel there are other MLAs who will join us then," said a BJP MLA, adding, "There is no active intervention required from the BJP. The government will fall on its own as the Congress is unhappy with its partner and won't want to continue."
The Congress and JD(S) have also entered into a pre-poll pact for the Lok Sabha elections, mutually agreeing to field ‘joint’ candidates across the state. Both allies claim they will ride this storm too.