- Congress ordered all its legislators to show up at a meeting in Bengaluru
- Attendance is a must, absence will be seen as exit from party: Congress
- The "rebel" Congress legislators are believed to be in a hotel in Mumbai
Four "missing" lawmakers needled the Congress in Karnataka as it rallied its flock today in the face of what it believes an attempt by the BJP to topple its coalition government with Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy's Janata Dal Secular.
At a Congress legislature party meeting in Bengaluru, two rebels who staged a dramatic comeback on Wednesday - Anand Singh and Bheema Naik - were the only consolation for the state leadership which had claimed all 80 of its lawmakers would show up. Four others, who have avoided their leaders' calls and overtures for days, were a no-show.
Umesh Jadhav, Ramesh Jarkiholi and Mahesh Kumathalli are believed to be at a Mumbai hotel and have had BJP visitors, according to reports. B Nagendra, the fourth absentee, told reporters he had a court hearing. Ramesh Jarkiholi was dropped recently from the state cabinet and is openly upset.
"I will send notice to the absentees and seek an explanation. Then I will speak to the high command," said former chief minister Siddaramaiah, the leader of the Congress legislature party.
Well after the meeting began, Umesh Jadhav sent a note saying he was unwell and couldn't travel. B Nagendra told journalists: "I went to Mumbai for personal reasons. I have business there and go there from time to time. Don't take it in any other way that I was in contact with someone."
Reports say a BJP parliamentarian, Sanjay Ramchandra Patil, visited the hotel this morning to meet them.
The Congress told its legislators that attendance was necessary and absence would be seen as their exit from the party.
Siddaramaiah said he had asked Ramesh Jarkiholi's brother Satish Jarkiholi to talk to him. Ramesh Jarkiholi has been "incommunicado" since Tuesday. Satish Jarkiholi, a first-time legislator who was made a minister in the cabinet at the same time his brother was ousted, reportedly tried to mollify him, without luck.
Mr Siddaramaiah hit out at the BJP's BS Yeddyurappa, who has been accused by the Congress of trying to induce its lawmakers to cross over. "Does Yeddyurappa have any self-respect," he asked.
The Congress rebels in Mumbai, and 104 BJP lawmakers sequestered at a resort in Gurgaon near Delhi this week, set the stage for what many believed was a Karnataka coalition crash engineered by the BJP. Speculation peaked after two independent lawmakers withdrew support from the Kumaraswamy-led Congress-Janata Dal Secular government.
The Congress repeatedly called it a redux of "Operation Lotus (the BJP's election symbol)" - the name given for a past BJP attempt to lure away rival lawmakers. After the return of two lawmakers, the ruling coalition leaders said the BJP had aborted its coup attempt.
The BJP insists that it was always Congress's internal crisis at play. "It is the JDS and Congress leaders that are trying to poach legislators and not BJP," said Mr Yeddyurappa.
The JDS-Congress alliance has 118 lawmakers in the 224-member Karnataka assembly where the majority mark is 113.