KARNATAKA

Two more leaders join Congress

BANGALORE, FEB. 26. Two more leaders of the All India Progressive Janata Dal (AIPJD) — the former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Ramesh Kumar, and a member of the dissolved House, S.S. Patil, today deserted the party to join the Congress.

The Chief Minister, S.M. Krishna, was present at the Congress Bhavan to admit them to the party. However, the element of surprise was missing in their entry into the Congress. The only question being asked at the Congress Bhavan was why the two did not join the Congress in New Delhi in the presence of the Congress President, Sonia Gandhi. Mr. Ramesh Kumar had participated in the parleys with the Chief Minister prior to the exodus of the AIPJD MLAs and leaders to the Congress.

It is homecoming for both of them. Mr. Ramesh Kumar was a Youth Congress leader in the days of Devaraj Urs, and Mr. S.S. Patil, a former Cooperation Minister, was one of the very few Gandhi cap sporting members of the dissolved Assembly. Mr. Kumar represented the Srinivasapur constituency in Kolar district and was Speaker of the Assembly during 1994-99. Mr. Patil had been elected from Mundargi in Dharwad district.

Mr. Patil is a Lingayat as in the case of most of the AIPJD leaders from North Karnataka who have joined the Congress.

Apart from the two leaders, the former BSP MLA from Bidar, Syed Zulfiquar Hashmi, a former President of the Karnataka Small-scale Industries' Association, Ivan D'Souza, Nagaraj Malady, Vijayalakshmi Bharagava, and Vadal Baba Gowda of Sirsi joined the Congress today.

The reason given by Mr. Ramesh Kumar for re-entering the Congress was that he had to fight the communal forces. However, Mr. Patil was more forthcoming and said that with the disintegration of the AIPJD, he found that he could not be part of either the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Janata Dal (Secular). "I am basically a Congressman," he claimed.

`No defections':The Chief Minister told a television channel that while the leaders of other political parties were joining the Congress, there was no fear of anyone from their party walking out. Speaking confidently of returning to the "third floor of the Vidhana Soudha", Mr. Krishna said that there was no opposition to the Congress in the State.

While agreeing that there was constituency-level opposition to the admission of leaders and former legislators from other parties, the President of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, B. Janardhana Poojary, said that it (opposition) would be "managed".

On the issue of fielding the new entrants in the elections, Mr. Poojary said that their case would be judged on merits, and no special consideration would be shown to them.

There was opposition to the admission of Mr. Ramesh Kumar into the Congress from the party MLA from Srinivasapur, Venkatashiva Reddy.

Mr. Reddy was recently stripped of the chairmanship of the Mysore Sales International Ltd.

Mr. S.S .Patil was the only Janata Dal MLA to be elected from Gadag district in the 1999 elections.