Congress registers emphatic win in Karnataka as BJP, JD(S) are swept aside

The Congress won the biggest mandate in the state since 1989 as it took 135 seats in the 224-seat assembly. The BJP was reduced to 66 seats, while the JD(S) won only 19 seats

Archis Mohan New Delhi

The Congress now faces the challenge of delivering on its five guarantees in its first cabinet meeting

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The Congress scored an emphatic win in the Karnataka assembly polls on Saturday, winning 135 seats. The victory vindicated the party strategy of contesting the election on local issues, especially those affecting people's lives, such as inflation and corruption, and keeping state leaders in the forefront rather than meeting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on its pitch of Hindutva or national issues.
The BJP was reduced to just 66 seats, down from 104 in 2018, while the Janata Dal (Secular) managed to win only 19 seats. It had won 37 seats in 2018.

The Congress vote share increased by nearly five percentage points to 42.9 per cent from 38.19 per cent in 2018. The Congress bettered the 132 seats it won in 1999, turning out its best performance in the state since 1989 when it had won 178 seats with a vote share of 43.76 per cent.
The Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha, supported by the Congress party in the elections, also won a seat.

The Congress defeating the BJP in Karnataka comes on the heels of its victory in Himachal Pradesh in December 2022, the first win after 18 successive assembly poll losses. The Karnataka win should help with its efforts at shaping opposition unity for the 2024 Lok Sabha and preparations for the five Assembly polls in November, including in the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The BJP seats plummeted from 104 (in 2018) to 66, with 12 of the 25 ministers, who contested, losing their seats, as did Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri. The party, however, would look at the silver lining that it almost matched its 2018 vote share, securing 35.9 per cent, which could help it repeat its 2019 Lok Sabha polls of winning 25 of 28 seats in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

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The state maintained its record of not having reelected a government in four decades, but the Janata Dal (S) suffered the brunt of the electors. The Vokkaliga-led party, which is dominant in the Old Mysuru region, dropped its vote share by five percentage points to 13.3 per cent. Nikhil Kumaraswamy, the son of party chief H D Kumaraswamy, lost from Ramanagaram, a family bastion his father has won four times, the last in 2018, and his mother in a bypoll later that year.
The defeat would add to the inconvenient questions that former CM Jagadish Shettar flagged of "partisanship" in ticket distribution by BJP general secretary (organisation) B L Santhosh, who hails from Karnataka. The BJP would also need to reconsider its high-pitched campaigns in state elections focusing on Hindutva and national issues, including raking up the Congress manifesto's promise to ban the Bajrang Dal.

If the Congress trusted its Karnataka leaders, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, former CM Siddaramaiah and state unit chief D K Shivakumar, the BJP was perceived to have insulted Lingayats by sacking B S Yediyurappa and his replacement, Basavaraj Bommai, was unable to fill his shoes.
After the results, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said the strength of the poor had defeated the power of crony capitalists, which would happen in all states. He said his party raised people's issues and ran a positive campaign. Congress spokesperson Jairam Ramesh attributed some of the success to the Rahul-led Bharat Jodo Yatra, which had spent 21 days in Karnataka, the most it had in any state. "In Karnataka, 'nafrat ka bazaar' (market of hate) has closed down' and 'mohabbat ki dukaanein' (shops of love) have opened," he said.

The Congress now faces the challenge of delivering on its five guarantees in its first cabinet meeting. According to sources, Siddaramaiah is the frontrunner to be the CM since two-thirds of the newly elected MLAs are his supporters. Still, the party would need to accommodate the interests of crucial castes, including Lingayats, Vokkaligas and Scheduled Castes. This could mean appointing more than one deputy CMs, one from each of these castes.
In the bypolls, the ruling Biju Janata Dal retained the Jharsuguda seat in Odisha. In UP, BJP-ally Apna Dal (Sonelal) won the Chhanbey (SC) and Suar seats, defeating the Samajwadi Party. Apna Dal (Sonelal) chief and Union minister Anupriya Patel is the MP from Mirzapur. The ruling Aam Aadmi Party wrested the Jallandhar seat from the Congress in a multi-cornered contest.

First Published: May 13 2023 | 8:03 PM IST

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