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Mainstream, VOL LI No 21, May 11, 2013

Congress Wrests Power in Karnataka


Saturday 11 May 2013, by SC


The results of the Karnataka Assembly polls are out: the BJP has suffered a rout losing power in the only State of South India where it had struck deep roots. The Congress has registered a comprehensive victory securing as many as 121 seats in the 224-member House thus setting to rest all doubts that it may fall short of a simple majority of 113. The BJP secured only 40 seats—the same as the tally of the JD(S)—as against 110 it had won in the 2008 election; at the same time its voteshare dropped by 13.9 per cent to touch just 20 per cent compared to 20.1 per cent of the JD(S) whereas it was way behind the Congress whose vote-share rose to 36.6 per cent (though this was just 1.8 per cent more than what it had last time). At the other end BJP rebel and former State CM B.S. Yeddyu-rappa’s Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) did indeed play spoilsport as the BJP brass in New Delhi have been claiming. Yet the party’s decisive defeat at the hustings cannot be attributed solely to the KJP factor since the latter won a mere six seats and received 9.8 per cent of the votes. As has been found after detailed analysis, the BJP-KJP’s combined tally is 4.1 per cent less than the unified BJP’s vote in 2008 and almost seven per cent lower than the Congress’ vote-share of 36.6 per cent. As for the JD(S), its vote-share has increased by just 1.1 per cent.

The results clearly underline the Karnataka electorate’s total disenhantment with the BJP. Apart from misgovernance over the last two years in particular, the “corruption, saffronisation and plunder of iron ore that characterised its five years in office, have cost it heavily”, as The Times of India has pointed out. The Lingayat voters, who were on its side in 2008, have deserted it and supported the Congress. Its strongholds in the coastal belt, where its Hindutva activists engaged in largescale “moral policing”, also lie shattered with the electorate once again reposing its faith in the Congress which has been able to wrest power in the State after 14 years.

The Narendra Modi factor failed to work wonders that the Gujarat CM’s unabashed admirers had hoped it would. However, in the BJP circles this is being interpreted differently. As some analysts have explained, several leaders in the main Opposition party at the Centre feel that the defeat shows the “politics-as-usual” style won’t work anymore and that the party as a whole needs to rally behind Modi in order to benefit from the popular resentment against the Congress. This is actually a shortsighted opinion because while Modi has the capacity to enthuse the committed party workers, he also is most qualified to repel the non-partisan electorate in general and political allies in particular. So in the overall perspective he would be a liability, something most of the BJP’s top leaders, including party President Rajnath Singh, are not prepared to accept at this stage. If they stick to this position, they are bound to regret in the final analysis.

The Congress, of course, has to strike a distinct departure from past practice if it is pledged to fulfil the people’s mandate reflected in the election outcome. That means putting an end to bickerings within the party once a leader has been chosen to head the government in the State—at present Siddaramaiah, the party’s legislature chief and an OBC leader, and Union Labour Minister Mallikarjun Kharge, a Dalit, are the leading contenders for the CM’s post. However, the way Karnataka PCC chief G. Parameshwara, a five-time MLA, was defeated in the polls by all the CM aspirants in the party ganging up to sabotage his chances in the Koratagere constituency [where he was pitted against a JD(S) candidate, a Yeddyurappa loyalist as well as money and muscle power of the party bigwigs] does not inspire much confidence on this score. But then if the Congress behaves as it has done in the past as the ruling party in Karnataka, disillusionment will set in much earlier than anticipated.

As of now, however, the Congress must be allowed to savour its well-deserved victory. Especially at a time when it is beleaguered as a consequence of the series of scams and unpardonable irregularities (like the way in which the Union Law Minister treated the CBI) that have struck it with deadly effect.

May 9 S.C.

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