In a big setback to the Congress in Telangana, 12 of its 18 MLAs joined the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi on Thursday. Speaker P Srinivas Reddy approved the legislators’ merger with the ruling party’s legislature party, PTI reported. If the merger is not reversed, the Congress may lose the status of Opposition party in the state Assembly.

The rebel Congress legislators have been alloted seats along with the members of the Telangana Rastra Samithi in the House, the Assembly said in a buletin. “...the Speaker has taken note that the said 12 members of the Congress Legislature Party, who constitute two thirds of its total members in the Telangana Legislative Assembly, are deemed to have been merged with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi Legislature Party in Telangana Legislative Assembly in terms of paragraph 4 of the 10th schedule to the Constitution of India,” the Assembly bulletin added.

State Congress chief Uttam Kumar Reddy called the move “completely illegal” and accused Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, popularly known as KCR, of cheating the mandate of the people.We are going to Telangana High Court tomorrow and if we do not get sufficient remedy, we will go to Supreme Court,” ANI quoted him as saying. “We will also be filing cases in the Lokpal with evidence of MLAs benefiting out of changing parties. We are going on a 36 hours fast on June 8.”

Reddy accused the speaker of lowering the dignity of his office. “We tried to contact him by every means but he was not available for us,” he alleged. “But in some secret place the speaker took some representation from defected Congress MLAs against whom disqualification notices under anti-defection law are pending with him, and announces merger of Congress Legislature Party. Can anything be more disgraceful?”

Earlier in the day, the Congress leader called the development “most shameless and brazen murder of democracy”. He also protested on the premises of the Assembly along with Congress Legislature Party leader M Bhatti Vikramarka and other senior leaders, and said he would fight the Telangana Rashtra Samithi democratically.

“You cannot remove the main Opposition party [from the Assembly],” PTI quoted the state Congress chief as saying. “You better shift the Assembly to your [KCR’s] farmhouse. We have already filed a petition in the High Court.” Reddy, Vikramarka, and the other leaders were taken into preventive custody by Assembly marshals and were later handed over to the police.

Senior Congress legislator Gandra Venkata Ramana Reddy, who is among the 12 MLAs who defected, said the rebel legislators decided to work with K Chandrasekhar Rao for the development of the state. “We held a special meeting of the Congress Legislature Party,” Reddy said. “The 12 members supported the leadership of Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and wanted to work with him. We gave a representation to the speaker and requested him to merge us with the TRS.”

The Congress won 19 out of 119 seats in the Telangana Assembly during the elections late last year. On Wednesday, the Congress’ strength in the House came down to 18 when Uttam Kumar Reddy resigned after being elected to the Lok Sabha from Nalgonda. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen led by Asaduddin Owaisi has seven members in the Assembly, while the Bharatiya Janata Party has just one.