After days of worrying about the stability of its coalition government in Karnataka, the state Congress can finally breathe a sigh of relief. It appears safe for now.
The party held a protest against the BJP, whom they have accused of trying to poach ruling legislators, at the Maurya Circle in Bengaluru on Thursday.
Several Congress lawmakers appeared to be missing in action over the last few days but things brightened up when two of those on the list - Anand Singh and Bheema Naik - turned up at the party's informal meeting venue of the Kumar Krupa guesthouse. Congress leaders maintain that the remaining MLAs will also make an appearance at the legislature party meet on Friday. "All the 80 MLAs will be present at the meeting," said Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee working president Eshwar Khandre.
Despite this show of confidence, doubts remain about some MLAs such as Ramesh Jarkiholi, Umesh Jadhav and B Nagendra. Mr Jarkhiholi was recently dropped from the Karnataka cabinet.
The Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government in Karnataka has a strength of 118 in the 224-member house. Even if two or three MLAs choose to leave the Congress, the coalition will still remain above the halfway mark of 113. Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has made it clear that attendance at Friday's legislature party meet is compulsory, and action would be taken against lawmakers who fail to come.
Karnataka Home Minister MB Patil said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah were possibly involved in creating the crisis by offering Congress legislators "ministerial positions and cash" in return for jumping ship.
The BJP has responded to taunts about its "failed attempt" to bring down the government by claiming that there was no such move on its part. "This is what I want to ask the Congress: What operation were we performing? They were the ones who claimed that many BJP MLAs were in touch with them. The Chief Minister himself offered money to one of our MLAs and promised him a ministry," claimed state BJP president BS Yeddyurappa, adding that there was no truth in the "rumours" about his party.
Mr Yeddyurappa has already returned to Bengaluru from Gurugram, where he had been camping with 100-odd BJP lawmakers in an apparent bid to prevent them from joining the ruling side. He paid a visit to the ailing Dr Shivakumar Swamiji, seer of the Siddaganga Mutt at Tumakuru, soon afterwards.
The rest of THE BJP legislators are expected to return soon, and Karnataka Congress chief Dinesh Gundu Rao has rolled out the proverbial red carpet for them with a sarcastic tweet. "We extend a hearty welcome to all Karnataka BJP MLAs who are returning home after an extended holiday at a luxury resort near Delhi. Now that they are sufficiently rejuvenated, let us hope they begin working in the constituencies they have neglected for so long," he said.