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BJP battered in Karnataka local polls

Bangalore, March 11: The Congress has surged ahead in Karnataka’s civic elections at a time Assembly polls are due in two months, with the BJP tasting the twin lashes of anti-incumbency and the Yeddyurappa factor.

H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular), which topped the 2007 urban elections, too turned out a big loser as results for 175 of the 207 civic bodies up for grabs came in late this evening. (See chart)

Former BJP chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa’s Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) failed to make a major impact but, along with the BSR Congress of the Bellary Reddys, cut heavily into BJP votes.

The results of the “semi-final” polls, which featured around 85 lakh of the state’s four crore voters, suggest the graft-ridden and faction-riven BJP administration that saw three chief ministers has been rejected by a large chunk of the party’s traditional base of the urban middle class.

Senior Congress leader and former Assembly Speaker B.L. Shankar said his party had expected the victory.

“Our campaigns have all been for the state elections. But this victory proves that our party has not lost any of its bases,” he said.

The last time the Congress was in power in the state was in May 2004 when S.M. Krishna was the chief minister.

The Congress made inroads into the strongholds of both the BJP and the JD(S).

It wrested Ramanagaram, the pocket borough of former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, from the JD(S) and Bellary, Mangalore and Davanagere from the BJP. It emerged as the largest single party in Mysore and Gulbarga, which returned fractured verdicts.

The absence of the Reddy brothers and their money power hit the BJP hard on the mining barons’ turf of Bellary, where it drew a blank.

Even chief minister Jagadish Shettar failed to ensure a win from his home municipality of Dharwad, which went to the Congress.

Shettar put up a brave front and denied that the election results meant his party’s days in power were numbered. “This result holds no implications for the Assembly polls,” he said.

However, his predecessor D.V. Sadananda Gowda was more forthright. “This is really disappointing. Our party has lost some very crucial seats. It seems like the people are fed up with (BJP) infighting,” he said.

JD(S) president Kumaraswamy struggled to explain the home defeat to the Congress.

“Ramanagaram is not Kumaraswamy. I didn’t even go to campaign there,” he said. “This is an election only for urban voters. The picture will change in the state elections when the rural electorate casts votes.”

In a ward-wise break-up till 10pm, the Congress had won 1,960 of the 4,952 seats up for grabs, with the BJP and the JD(S) tied at 906. The KJP had won just 274 wards but the Independents had made it big with 776.

Tight contests led to 56 civic bodies throwing up hung verdicts. As in 2007, when 76 civic bodies returned fractured verdicts, new alignments are certain to follow in the coming days to determine which party would rule these towns and cities.

Independents and smaller parties such as the KJP and the BSR Congress are likely to play pivotal parts in the formation of these civic bodies’ councils.