Polarising politics came a cropper. “Modi magic” cast no spell. “Plan B” could not leave the bench.
The BJP was on Saturday routed in the only state it ruled in the south, Karnataka’s voters returning the Congress to power with a thumping majority, putting bread-and-butter issues ahead of divisive politics and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal charisma.
P.C. Siddaramaiah, the last Congress chief minister of the state, called the victory a “stepping stone before the Lok Sabha polls”, acknowledging the potentially far-reaching implications of the result which has dimmed Modi’s aura of invincibility and will encourage the Opposition ahead of next year’s general election.
By dusk, the Congress had 136 wins or leads, more than double the BJP’s 65, in a House of 224. Congress ally Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha won the Melukote seat, its candidate Darshan Puttannaiah, a techie turned farmer, defeating JDS nominee C.S. Puttaraju. Independent candidate Puttaswamy Gowda, who won from Gauribidanur, too has declared support for the Congress.
The Janata Dal Secular had won or led from 19 seats, its hopes of playing kingmaker in a hung House dashed.
Just a day earlier, revenue minister R. Ashoka had spoken of a “Plan B” to stay in power if a majority eluded the BJP. The comment was interpreted widely as a hint at poaching on opponents’ MLAs, which is how the BJP’s outgoing government had been formed in the first place.
By Saturday afternoon, all such talk had been silenced by the sheer size of the mandate for the Congress — its second-best in Karnataka after Veerendra Patil had led the party to 178 seats in 1989.
The Congress campaign was centred on promises of good governance, social justice, communal harmony and welfare programmes, and criticism of the price rise, unemployment and the BJP’s government’s alleged corruption.
The BJP placed its faith on Modi’s personal appeal apart from polarising issues such as its government’s cancellation of the 4 per cent Muslim reservation, the Congress promise to ban outfits such as the Bajrang Dal, and the film The Kerala Story that highlighted alleged “love jihad” in neighbouring Kerala.
Modi spent over a dozen days in Karnataka, holding 19 rallies and 6 road shows.
“One hundred per cent, this is a mandate against Narendra Modi, (Union home minister) Amit Shah and (BJP national president J.P.) Nadda,” Siddaramaiah said. “Modi came to Karnataka and addressed 20 rallies. (But) Modi’s influence did not work here.”
Siddaramaiah added: “I have been saying that nothing will happen here even if Modi comes 100 times.”
He described the mandate against the BJP as a “warning bell” before the Lok Sabha elections and asserted: “A non-BJP government will certainly come to power (at the Centre in 2024).”
One of the biggest setbacks for the BJP was the failureof its electoral “Gujarat model” — fielding new candidates at the cost of seniors to beat anti-incumbency. Only about a dozen of the 75 new faces the party had nominated won.
It was this tilt towards fresh faces that had miffed former chief minister Jagadish Shettar and former deputy chief minister Laxman Savadi, both of whom defected to the Congress and contested from their home turfs. While Shettar lost from Hubli Dharwad Central, Savadi won from Athani.
State Congress president D.K. Shivakumar turned emotional while thanking his party leaders and cadres, recalling how Sonia Gandhi had visited him in Delhi’s Tihar jail when he was imprisoned there for 50 days in a money-laundering case.
“I credit this win to my party cadres and all my leaders,” he said before breaking down.
“They worked hard. The people have expressed faith in us and the leaders have supported us,” he added, collecting himself, before breaking out in sobs again as he said: “I can’t forget Smt Sonia Gandhi visiting me in jail.”
Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar refused to be drawn on the subject of the chief minister’s post — for which they both are in the running — leaving it to the party high command to decide.
The general speculation in the party is that the Congress legislature party will pick Siddaramaiah, and it will be ratified by the central leadership. Shivakumar is expected to be the number two in the government with key portfolios and possibly the post of deputy chief minister.
Outgoing chief minister Basavaraj Bommai made the customary statement about his party carrying out a detailed analysis of the defeat.
“Once (all) the results come (out) we will do a detailed analysis,” a visibly distraught Bommai told reporters.
“We’ll look into it and improve upon it. We will take this result in our stride and go ahead and reorganise the party and come back for the Lok Sabha elections.”
Shobha Karandlaje, convener of the BJP’s election management committee, said her party would function as a “good Opposition”.
“In the coming days, we will work in the Vidhana Sabha to present the people’s problems. We will certainly work as a good Opposition. All the best to the Congress,” she said.
She, however, dropped a hint about what shape Opposition politics might take in the state in the near future.
“You (the Congress) have made a lot of mistakes in the past,” she said. “You have insulted Hindus. My only request is that you should work for everyone.”
Several BJP heavyweights bit the dust, among them national general secretary C.T. Ravi who lost on his home turf of Chikmagalur to H.D. Thammiah of the Congress.
Ravi, a hardliner, tweeted his acceptance of the people’s verdict. A prominent leader of the Lingayat community, Thammiah had quit the BJP and joined the Congress in February.
Education minister B.C. Nagesh, architect of the hijab ban in classrooms, lost to K. Shadakshari of the Congress in Tiptur.
Many of the turncoats who had brought down the JDS-Congress government in 2019 too lost. Among them were health minister K. Sudhakar, transport minister B. Sriramulu, law minister J.C. Madhuswamy, minister for small-scale industries M.T.B. Nagaraj, and agriculture minister B.C. Patil.
The BJP’s gamble of fielding high-profile candidates against Shivakumarand Siddaramaiah to checkmate them on their home turfs fell flat, with ministers Ashoka and V. Somanna both losing.
Ashoka managed to win the other constituency he was contesting from, Padmanabhanagar in Bangalore, but Somanna lost from both seats he contested.
The Congress wrested the BJP citadels of Virajpet and Madikeri. A.S. Ponnanna defeated incumbent K.G. Bopiah in Virajpet, and Mantra Gowda beat Appachu Ranjan in Madikeri.