As votes were being tallied in the south Indian state of Karnataka yesterday afternoon, it became increasingly clear that India’s ruling Congress Party was routing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled the state for the past five years.
Last night it was official: Of the 224 assembly seats up for grabs in the Karnataka elections, Congress won at least 121, a comfortable majority. The BJP, which formerly claimed Karnataka as its stronghold, secured a meager 40. Meanwhile, regional party Janata Dal (Secular), or JD (S), made large gains, matching the BJP with 40 seats. A list of key winners and losers can be seen here.
Of more than 41 million eligible voters in the state, 71 percent turned out to vote for more than 2,900 candidates. The desire for change resounded across the state, including the youthful capital city of Bangalore, an information technology powerhouse known as the “Silicon Valley of India.”
According to the BBC’s Soutik Biswas, the win represents a major blow to the Hindu nationalist BJP, which may portend disappointment in India’s general elections next year. “We have had a setback,” conceded former Karnataka chief minister and BJP leader Sadananda Gowda. The BJP won 110 seats at the last Karnataka elections in 2008.
Handing in his resignation, the BJP’s Jagadish Shettar said, “What image we lost earlier, that continued… Allegations against ministers, Chief Ministers were in the minds of the people.”
Reactions from the other major parties were equally strong.
“The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rout in Karnataka is a clear result against (its) ideology,” added Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who gave credit to his party’s vice president Rahul Gandhi for his role in the win. “The people of the country know what’s what and they will reject the BJP ideology as the result in Karnataka shows.”
Meanwhile, HD Kumaraswamy, JD(S) leader and former chief minister of Karnataka, vowed that his party will to “fight against Congress like we fought against BJP… We will sit in the Opposition.”
Throughout the election, allegations of corruption were hurled from both sides in Karnataka The BJP dispatched Nadrenda Modi, touted as the party’s potential prime ministerial candidate, to the state, while the Congress party sent Rahul Gandhi and other senior leaders, both to downplay accusations of graft and campaign in the state ahead of next year’s national polls.
Gandhi was credited with playing a major role in the win, but BJP leader Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, suffered a setback. “No one knows Narendra Modi outside Gujarat,” said Digvijay Singh, general secretary of Congress. “It has been proved again by Karnataka.”
Going a step further, Union Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal added, “It has been proved that he (Modi) is a big zero. He has no impact on the voters of Karnataka.”
The next step in the election process will be filling the chief minister’s post. Leading contender K Siddaramaiah said, “We are thankful to the people of Karnataka for giving a clear majority. We will give a corruption-free, stable, able government.” Alongside Siddaramaiah, Mallikarjun Kharge and RV Deshpande are also considered candidates to watch in the race for the chief minister post.
While the victory is a strong indicator of forward momentum for Congress leading up to next year’s national polls, it is worth noting that the mandate also reflects a populace fed up with corruption and mismanagement. In light of this reality, some suggest that the party’s jubilant response could be premature. It is, after all, embroiled in an image crisis due to its “Coalgate” and “Railgate” scandals.
“Shouldn’t Congress be worried by the Karnataka mandate?” asks a post in India Times. “Because hailing it as a sign that voters will punish corruption in governance, the Congress looks really silly as it struggles with multiple corruption scandals at the center.”