BJP ministry faces survival test in Karnataka

Bangalore, Feb 3 (IANS) The Karnataka legislature begins the last session of its five-year term Monday with the survival of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in doubt following large-scale desertions from the party.

The 10-day session has been called to enable Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar present his maiden budget on Feb 8. He took office six months ago to become BJP's third chief minister in its first rule in the state.

The term of the 225-member assembly expires May-end. Of the 225 members, 224 are elected and one is nominated. Polls to elect the new assembly are likely in April-May.

Ahead of the session, the BJP finds itself in almost the same position it was in after the last polls in May 2008 in terms of numbers.

Then it had won 110 seats in the assembly and crossed the majority mark with the help of five of the six Independents who were elected.

To get a majority on its own, the BJP encouraged defections from the Congress and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) assembly members in the first two years of its rule. Several of the members quit the house and their party and won by-polls as BJP nominees to take its numbers to 120.

That has now come down to 106, including the speaker - as of Sunday - as 13 party members have quit the assembly and the party since Nov 30 and one much earlier.

The 14 resignations have brought down the house strength to 211 in which the strength of the combined opposition, including six independents, is 103.

Of this, the Congress has 71 members and the JD-S 26.

Apart from its own 106 members, the BJP has the support of one of the seven Independents, who is a cabinet minister.

The BJP numbers could go down further to 104 if the speaker on Monday accepts the pending resignation of two party members from the assembly.

The first of the 13 to leave was BJP's former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who quit the assembly and the party Nov 30 to lead his Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) while 12 of his loyalists quit last Tuesday.

All eyes are now on Governor H. R. Bhardwaj, who has said if he feels the government is in a minority by even one vote, he would direct Shettar to prove his majority in the assembly before transacting any other business in the house.

Bhardwaj is scheduled to address the joint sitting of the assembly and the legislature Feb 4 as this is the first session in the New Year.

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