In what is perhaps the only silver lining in a perilously dark cloud, the Congress has left the BJP in its dust in the Karnataka assembly elections. What must be galling for the BJP is that though it had hoped to come in second, it is now third with the Janata Dal (Secular) notching up more votes than it. Caste, always a major factor in Karnataka politics, seems to have worked in favour of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda's party, which won handsomely in the Vokkaliga strongholds in the southern part of the state. The BJP was more or less doomed from the word go. The party had undergone a messy split with its strongman and former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa walking out to form his own party. Mr Yeddyurappa's visceral hatred of his former party seems to have sent him into overdrive to ensure the BJP's defeat.
The BJP has no one but itself to blame for the loss of its only southern state. The party leadership dithered for far too long on taking action against its local leaders when they were clearly seen to be corrupt. They were dismissive of Mr Yeddyurappa and his protests at the way he was being treated. It was far too late when the new BJP president Rajnath Singh tried to soothe ruffled feathers. The BJP also relied, it would now seem erroneously, in the star power of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to inject a bit of life into the listless party. But despite Mr Modi's best efforts, the party rank and file just did not work with any enthusiasm to ensure the victory of its candidates.
What seems to be upsetting many is that the voters really had little choice. They had to choose between bad and worse in the case of the Congress and the BJP. Corruption certainly was an issue and the BJP's hopes that caste politics would overcome that did not materialise. With this defeat the BJP will have to start from scratch in the south. Karnataka was the gateway through which it had hoped to lay siege to south India. Now that gate is firmly shut for the moment. The Congress, while rejoicing, should not forget that it may have been chosen as a better option but it will have to deliver on governance in order to retain and attract investment and fulfil the aspirations of a young population. The state, which is supposed to be hub of the IT industry, has seen investors move out in recent times thanks to appalling infrastructure and rampant corruption. The Congress has its work cut out for it on these and other counts. Hit by scam after scam at the Centre the Congress will have to work overtime to ensure that the taint does not rub off on it in the state even before it gets off the starting block.