Surrounded by the Aravali forests where leopards are said to lurk, over 100 Karnataka BJP lawmakers have been sequestered at a luxe -- yet confining --resort in Gurgaon near Delhi. As two independent lawmakers withdrew support from the ruling Janata Dal Secular-Congress coalition in Karnataka on Tuesday, the mystery surrounding the activities of the Bengaluru club intensified. Sources say they checked into the ITC Grand Bharat at 5 pm on Monday, even though they were expected much later at night. No one's quite sure how long they will stay.
The official reason for their unexpected break, as their leader BS Yeddyurappa told NDTV yesterday, was a boot camp before the national election due by May.
They were flown to Delhi on the weekend, when the BJP had a two-day leadership conclave. Now 104 legislators have virtually taken over the entire resort, occupying 60 of its 100-odd rooms. The rooms cost Rs 30,000 each, though it is not known whether they paid this or were given a discount. Hotel insiders say since they arrived, the police have placed extra layers of security, which means hardly any other guests are left.
The five-star retreat has heated pools, golfing, villas and presidential suites overlooking lush greens. But while the Karnataka bunch was caught on camera catching a game of cricket, they have had little else for entertainment.
Sources say the lawmakers are usually seen in two meeting rooms called the Prithvi and the Hub, where they spend many hours in discussions or braving the significantly colder weather. They have even been having all their meals together in those rooms.
Senior leaders like Shobha Karandlaje have been making regular visits. Senior BJP leader Murlidhar Rao told NDTV the exercise was simply one to "prepare the troops" for the 2019 campaign. They haven't had any separate meetings with BJP president Amit Shah, he said.
Mr Yeddyurappa, accused by Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy of trying to pull his government down and take power before the national election due by May, says he has brought the lawmakers to the resort because of fear of poaching.
The former chief minister emphatically denies that he is doing the poaching. "Neither me, nor our leaders have said we will carry out operation Lotus," he said, referring to the term used by rivals for the party's attempts to lure lawmakers and establish itself in power.
"Operation Lotus" was last executed in 2008, when Mr Yeddyurappa was chief minister and opposition legislators resigned and joined the ruling BJP.