Karnataka Assembly polls: Congress wins, with over twice the seats as BJP

The juggernaut of the ruling BJP stopped at just 65 of 224 seats in the Assembly, while Congress scored a comfortable 136.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge with KPCC chief D.K. Shivakumar and former CM Siddaramaiah. Photo courtesy: @INC/Twitter
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge with KPCC chief D.K. Shivakumar and former CM Siddaramaiah. Photo courtesy: @INC/Twitter

Naheed Ataulla

"This is going to be the best birthday gift, which KPCC (Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee) President D.K. Shivakumar has got," a close confidant of his said, referring to the Congress's comfortable win of 136 seats in the Karnataka Assembly polls on Saturday. Shivakumar turns 61 years on May 15.

The juggernaut of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stopped at 65 seats in the 224-member Assembly. The Janata Dal (Secular), which was hoping for a fractured mandate so that it would be in the reckoning as kingmaker, if not king, won just 19, and Independents got 4 seats.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, in his brief interaction with the media, said, "Nafrat ki bazaar bandh, mohabbat ki dukhan khuli hai [the market of hate is closed, the shop of love has opened)." Gandhi was referring to the extent of polarisation in Karnataka under the outgoing government, which has been accused of hate speeches along with corruption and incompetence.

The Congress victory tally is better than the results of 10 prominent exit polls, 4 of which had predicted a hung assembly with the Congress as the single largest outfit, while 4 others had given an absolute majority to the party. Of the two remaining exit polls, one had said it would be a hung Assembly, with the BJP emerging as the single largest party, and the other had given an absolute majority to the BJP. The aggregate of the 10 exit polls had given 108 seats to the Congress, 91 to the BJP and 22 to the JD(S).

The BJP's defeat was just not due the anti-incumbency trend; it had a lot to do with organisational issues also.

For the first time in three decades, the BJP failed to bag the Lingayat votes en bloc in the dominant regions of Kittur Karnataka (Mumbai Karnataka), Kalyana Karnataka (Hyderabad Karnataka) and Central Karnataka. The ouster of Lingayat stalwart B.S. Yediyurappa from the chief minister's post in July 2021, the BJP later sidelining him, and angst in the community over the tweaking of the reservation matrix probably all contributed to the BJP's defeat.

Union home minister Amit Shah's push to penetrate into the Vokkaliga heartland in the old Mysuru region also came a cropper. The region has always seen a two-corner contest between the JD(S) and the Congress. In 2018, the JD(S) won a majority of the total 57 seats in the region. This time the Congress has wrested most of them.

The only region where the BJP's performance was on the expected party lines was the coastal region, where it stayed ahead of the Congress.

In Bengaluru city, which has 28 seats, it was a close call for both the Congress and the BJP. Here, buoyed by its success in Gujarat, the BJP gave tickets to 75 new faces, which bombed.

Conceding defeat, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, who is expected to resign by Saturday evening, said, "I take responsibility for this debacle. There are multiple reasons for this. We will find out all the reasons and strengthen the party once again for Parliament elections." Yediyurappa too said the party will introspect on the reasons for the party's defeat.

Nearly eight ministers in Bommai's cabinet who were considered leaders of their respective communities have nonetheless lost: B. Sriramulu, Govind Karjol, Murugesh Nirani, B.C. Patil, J.C. Madhuswamy, V. Somanna, K. Sudhakar and M.T.B. Nagaraj. Sitting BJP MLA Preetam J. Gowda also lost.

The Congress had its share of surprises too

Even as the Congress made forays into new regions to garner the numbers for its victory, the biggest shocker for the party was the defeat of its prize catch, former chief minister Jagadish Shettar.

The Lingayat leader from the Kittur Karnataka region, who broke all ties with the BJP and the Sangh Parivar to join the Congress after he was denied a ticket by his erstwhile party, contested from the Hubballi–Dharwad Central seat and lost to his one-time confidant, BJP candidate Mahesh Tenginakai.

According to Congress sources, Shettar's defeat was unexpected, as he had been winning from that constituency since 1994, which was earlier called Hubballi Rural, prior to delimitation in 1994. But Shettar's one-time mentor, former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, had foreseen Shettar's defeat. He had confidently said that he would write in blood that the latter would lose on a Congress ticket. "Shettar went to the Congress, but his supporters and the grassroots workers in the constituency remained with the BJP," a BJP functionary said.

However, another former BJP stalwart and Lingayat leader, former deputy chief minister Laxman S. Savadi had a comfortable win from Athani, in Belagavi district. Savadi had resigned his MLC seat to join the Congress after the BJP declined a ticket to him as well.

In the afterglow— and the aftermath

As the day draws to a close, reactions from all parties—and not just in the state—are taking shape. The Congress of course got an early start on its celebrations.

Reacting to the Congress victory, All-India Congress Committee (AICC) president Mallikarjun M. Kharge said this showed how a party can win if all are united.

Siddaramaiah said the verdict was a mandate against Modi and Shah. "I think this election is a crucial poll. It's a stepping stone for the ensuing Lok Sabha polls in 2024. I also want Rahul [Gandhi] to become the Prime Minister,” he added.

Shivakumar, who became emotional while speaking to the media, recalled that Congress leader Sonia Gandhi had come to meet him when he was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with a money laundering case. "I had assured Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Kharge then that I will deliver Karnataka to them," he added.

Shivakumar was arrested in September 2019 and released on bail in October 2019. He was appointed the KPCC chief on May 11, 2020.

In the JD (S) camp, it was a mix of jubilation and disappointment. While former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy won from Channapatna, his son Nikhil Kumaraswamy lost from the adjacent constituency, Ramanagaram, to Congress’s H.A. Iqbal Ansari. This is Nikhil's second electoral defeat, after losing the Mandya Lok Sabha seat to independent candidate Sumalatha Ambareesh, an actor, in 2019. 

The Hassan seat had caused some rumblings in former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda's family. His daughter-in-law, also the wife of JD(S) MLA H.D. Revanna, wanted to contest from the seat; but the ticket was finally given to party worker H.P. Swaroop,  who won the seat.

Now, amidst the licking of wounds and regrouping, lingers the anticipation of the Congress electing the state's new leader on May 14, Sunday.

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