Fourteen of the coalition’s MLAs have resigned, while two independent backers have taken their support to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which the Congress and the JD(S) have accused of masterminding the resignation crisis.
However, if one were to dig deeper, the origin of the upheaval could be traced to three senior leaders of the ruling alliance itself: Ramalinga Reddy and Ramesh Jarkiholi of the Congress and JD(S) member A.H. Vishwanath, who also has a stint with the Congress under his belt.
ThePrint takes a look at how the three have brought the alliance government Karnataka on the brink of collapse.
Karnataka’s sugar bowl Belagavi aka Belgaum is as famous for its sweets as its sugar barons, the Jarkiholi brothers of Gokak.
Ramesh Jarkiholi is the eldest of five brothers — all of them are politicians, with three serving as MLAs in the current assembly. The five are believed to be wield deep influence in Belgaum, which accounts for 18 of Karnataka’s 224 seats.
For several years, the Jarkiholis have been contesting elections from rival parties, though they are known to come together as a family in times of crisis.
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Balachandra, one of the brothers, is a BJP MLA, while another, Bhimshi Jarkiholi, contested the 2008 assembly election on a BJP ticket but lost to Ramesh from Gokak.
Ramesh has been a legislator since 1999, and has served four terms as MLA. He was a minister in the erstwhile Siddaramaiah government, and continues to be one in the current H.D. Kumaraswamy regime. However, he is said to have been harbouring resentment for being handed the “inconsequential” portfolio of municipal administration.
As a result, he began boycotting cabinet meetings, and creating a buzz about making his stepbrother Satish, an MLA, the chief minister.
Tempers flared further when Ramesh and Satish found themselves on collision course with a former protege, Belagavi MLA Laxmi Hebbalkar, during Belagavi Taluk Primary and Rural Development Bank elections in 2018. Hebbalkar reportedly knocked the doors of senior Congress leader D.K. Shivakumar, who is trying to currently firefight the MLA crisis, to intervene in the dispute.
Incensed, Ramesh and Satish allegedly threatened to quit the Congress if Shivakumar was not reined in.
They approached Congress legislature party leader Siddramaiah to intervene, but Shivakumar, who is being groomed by the party as a CM candidate, did not step back. Ramesh then took a group of disgruntled Congress MLAs to Satara in Maharashtra last August in order to pressurise the coalition to broker a deal.
Ramesh reportedly met BJP president Amit Shah during this time, claiming to have the support of 15 MLAs.
But when all the 15 were asked to visit Delhi, only five landed, bringing the attempted coup to a halt.
Ramesh, however, did not give up and remained in touch with the disgruntled MLAs, even convincing eight to resign, worsening the current crisis.
“Do not underestimate the Jarkiholis. If they have been betrayed, they take it very seriously. They have been hurt and Ramesh, especially, is in no mood to compromise now,” said a Congress leader. “He is being backed by the BJP as he may be the key to more rebellions in the family.”
Adagur H. Vishwanath is a four-time MLA and one-time MP. He resigned as JD(S) state chief on 4 June this year, saying he was a “dummy” president. Soon after, he herded a few disgruntled MLAs to a Mumbai hotel, bringing the Congress-JD(S) government on the brink of collapse.
Sources say Vishwanath is hopeful of being taken in by the BJP.
A political leader from the powerful Kuruba community, he had been associated with the Congress for more than four decades before a fallout with the then chief minister Siddaramaiah forced him to switch sides to the Janata Dal (Secular) led by H.D. Deve Gowda two years ago.
While exiting the Congress, he had accused Siddarmaiah of sidelining senior leaders and party workers “responsible for the growth of the party”.
During a conversation with ThePrint in 2017, Vishwanath had claimed that it was he who got Siddaramaiah into the Congress and helped salvage his political career after he was expelled from the JD(S) in 2005 due to differences with party chief HD Deve Gowda.
Vishwanath’s own political career began in 1978, when he contested his maiden assembly election under the banner of the Indian National Congress (Urs), led by former chief minister Devaraj Urs. He joined the Indian National Congress in 1980.
He defended the shift in his autobiography Halli Hakkiya Haadu, saying Urs saw himself as a sinking ship and “asked us to go and search of a political future”.
When Vishwanath shifted to the JD(S) in 2017, he said his goal was to bring the party to power in the state. Now, he has been quoted as saying that the coalition has failed to deliver.
A BJP leader told ThePrint that Vishwanath held more appeal for the party than Ramesh Jarkiholi.
“The fact that Ramesh tried several times to get MLAs on his side and failed, did not go down well with the BJP central leadership. Vishwanath has been a long-time Congress loyalist and his influence and persuasion may bring in more people towards the party,” the leader added.
When senior Congress leader Ramalinga Reddy resigned, he said he was not doing it to join the BJP, though they had tried to approach him. It was because, Reddy added, he was very unhappy with Kumaraswamy’s governance as well as deputy chief minister G. Parameshwara, who holds the portfolio of Bengaluru development.
His resignation led several others to quit on similar grounds, namely Bengaluru MLAs Byrathi Basavaraju, R. Munirathna, S.T. Somashekhar and MTB Nagaraj. All of them are believed to be miffed with Parameshwara for reportedly not releasing funds for development work in the city.
Reddy started his political career as a Congress nominee in the Bengaluru municipal corporation, and soon secured a party ticket for the 1989 assembly election from Jayanagar.
He faced a tough contest in the election, facing the Janata Dal, the BJP and a local don named M.P. Jayaraj. However, during the campaign, a group of rival gangsters shot Jayaraj dead.
The Election Commission countermanded the election. When the poll was subsequently held, Reddy won by a margin of over 17,000 votes, and there’s been no looking back since. His daughter Soumya Reddy currently holds the Jayanagar seat.
When the Congress sought the disqualification of its rebel MLAs, Reddy was kept out of the decision because the party is of the opinion that he could still be convinced to stay on if his concerns are addressed.
This report has been updated to correct a mistake in the name of don M.P. Jayaraj, which was written wrong in a subsequent mention.
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