The BJP government in Karnataka faced a serious threat Sunday as 13 of its 118 legislators defied a diktat and attended the launch of a party by former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa here.
Enthused by their presence, Yeddyurappa dared Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar to prove his majority in the 225-seat assembly or quit and dissolve it to pave the way for early election otherwise due next year.
"I challenge Shettar to prove his majority without the support of my loyalist ministers and legislators. Let him take action against them if he has the guts," thundered Yeddyurappa at a mammoth public rally in this north Karnataka town, about 350 km from Bangalore.
"Otherwise, he should resign and dissolve the assembly for holding early elections," the 69-year-old said at the event to launch Karnataka Janata Party (KJP).
Shettar dismissed the challenge and said in Hubli, around 70 km from here, that his government enjoyed majority support.
He said his information was that 10 or 12 Bharatiya Janata Party legislators attended the KJP launch and the party would decide what action needed to be taken.
Karnataka BJP chief K.S. Eshwarappa said in Shimoga, about 280 km north of Bangalore, that the party will decide Wednesday the action to be taken against the rebel legislators.
There is speculation that the BJP is mulling the possibility of invoking the anti-defection law so that these legislators would be barred from contesting elections for six years.
Yeddyurappa, who took over as KJP president at Haveri, warned the BJP against taking disciplinary action against the 14-18 BJP legislators who were present on his dais in solidarity.
"I just got information that action will be taken... In that case, I will tell Shettar that you don't have a majority and so should quit," he said in a raised voice, drawing cheers from his supporters.
"Shettar should know that he is the chief minister because of my loyalists and that the BJP government is surviving with the support of my loyalists. About 50-60 legislators are ready to quit and join my new party.
"But I told them not to do so and precipitate a political crisis as an assembly election is due in four-five months," Yeddyurappa said.
Earlier, six cabinet ministers and over a dozen party legislators drove to Haveri from Belgaum for a breakfast meeting with Yeddyurappa at a friend's house.
In the process, the ministers defied Eshwarappa's warning against attending even breakfast meetings or tea parties by Yeddyurappa loyalists at Haveri.
The ministers were C.M. Udasi (public works), Basavaraj Bommai (water resources), Murugesh Nirani (major industries), M.P. Renukacharya (excise), Revu Naik Belamagi (animal husbandry) and Shobha Karandlaje (power).
Yeddyurappa told the rally that Shettar and Eshwarappa should know that they were running "a coalition government" of BJP and KJP "as more than 50 percent of their party legislators are with me.
"They will not be in power even for a day without my support," he said.
The BJP has 118 members, including Speaker K.G. Bopaiah, in the 225-member assembly and 44 in the 75-member legislative council. The Shettar cabinet is 34-strong.
The defiance by the ministers and legislators came a day after Infrastructure Minister Sunil Valyapure quit the Shettar cabinet after the BJP sacked Cooperation Minister B.J. Puttaswamy and suspended Tumkur Lok Sabha member G.S. Basavaraj for backing Yeddyurappa.