The Bharatiya Janata Party defeated the Congress in Karnataka elections on Sunday, stepping across the Vindhyas to try to rule a southern state by itself for the first time.
A simple but effective “give us a chance” card backed by millionaire candidates and blunders of a faction-driven Congress in the tech-savvy state helped the BJP win 110 seats — three short of a simple majority — in the 224-member legislative assembly. The state was the first to go to polls after the electoral constituencies were redrawn on the basis of new population data.
The Janata Dal (S) of former PM HD Deve Gowda, which played a rather troublesome kingmaker’s role after the last assembly polls, was pushed into political wilderness after it was thrashed in most places, winning only 28 seats.
Karnataka Polls 2008
“The UPA government’s utter failure to control the prices of essential commodities, its soft and compromising policy on terrorism, and its insensitivity towards the plight of kisans have angered the common people all over the country,” BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani said in a statement, referring to the Congress-led coalition at the center.
The BJP was propelled by money power, almost as much as by the caste equations that went in its favour. Almost all crucial districts where mining magnates, real estate entrepreneurs or industrialists ploughed in their funds, went the party’s way.
Congress, which blamed BJP’s victory on a division of secular votes, fought the election on the stability plank. It won 80 seats, better than the 65 it won in 2004. It did not consider price rise and internal security as major issues in the election. The weekly inflation rate is hovering close to 8 per cent, highest in nearly 40-odd months.
BJP state leader B.S. Yeddyurappa, who comes from a farming family, is expected to be sworn in as chief minister on Wednesday after the party said it had the support of the remaining lawmakers needed to form a government. “It is a humbling experience. We will strive for all round development of Karnataka,” he said. Yeddyurappa was dislodged as chief minister by JD (S) in November 2007.
This was one of several routs for the Congress in recent months, as it prepares for the upcoming parliamentary elections next year. The BJP retook Gujarat in December and then wrested Himachal Pradesh. Party leaders said they were sure that the BJP would win the next general elections.
“This geographical expansion of the BJP, and the simultaneous shrinkage of the Congress party almost all over the country, shows the shape of things to come in the run-up to the next Parliamentary elections,” said Advani.
State Congress leader SM Krishna congratulated the BJP for securing a “near simple majority” and conceded that the Congress would have to rework its strategy while sitting in opposition.
But state Congress Vice President H. Hanumanthappa was more direct and pointed to several follies in the party's election strategy. "We were unorganised … The party structure was not strengthened and the selection of candidates was done to match our opponents than win the seats," he said.
Hanumanthappa said the Congress also did not make good use of the delimitation exercise. "We ought to have included new faces in new constituencies carved out of delimitation, but we brought back old faces in the hope that they will win. We also botched the process of selection of candidates because we were not united (in the state unit)."
Karnataka was the first big election of the poll season and Congress has many battles ahead. Assembly elections are due in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, J&K and Delhi later this year before the world's biggest electoral exercise unfolds next year.
The Congress rules Delhi, but would try hard to play on anti-incumbency to try and win power in key states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. It has ruled the state of Delhi for a decade and analysts say it would find it difficult to keep power.