Congress moves way past the half-way mark

Sending out a powerful signal for change, Karnataka has voted the Bharatiya Janata Party out of power, giving the Congress an unambiguous mandate to rule, with 121 seats in the 224-strong Karnataka Assembly. Polling for one seat was countermanded after the death of a candidate. The party had won just 80 seats in the May 2008 Assembly elections. The BJP, which was elected to power in 2008 with 110 seats, won only 40 seats this time round.

An unexpected, but significant, outcome is the strong showing by the Janata Dal (Secular), led by the former Chief Minister, H.D. Kumaraswamy. The JD(S), which upped its tally to 40 (from 28 in 2008), shares the second spot with the BJP.

The Karnataka Janata Paksha, a BJP-breakaway headed by B.S Yeddyurappa, won in six constituencies, falling far short of its own double-digit expectation. Another BJP-breakaway, the Badavara Shramikara Raitara Congress of B.S. Sriramulu, an associate of the Reddy mining barons from Bellary, won in four seats. The remaining 12 constituencies were won by Independents.

Some of the prominent winners include the outgoing Chief Minister, Jagadish Shettar, from Hubli Central; Siddaramaiah, a Congress frontrunner for Chief Minister from Varuna in Mysore district; Mr. Yeddyurappa from Shikaripura in Shimoga district; and Mr. Kumaraswamy from Ramanagara.

Among the high-profile candidates who lost are Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president and chief ministerial aspirant G. Parameshwara from Koratagere in Tumkur district; the outgoing Deputy Chief Minister K.S. Eswarappa from Shimoga City; Anita Kumaraswamy, wife of Mr. Kumaraswamy in Kanakapura (defeated by C.P. Yogeshwar, a former BJP Minister who contested on the Samajwadi Party ticket); and Shobha Karandlaje, a former minister and close associate of Mr. Yeddyurappa, in Rajajinagar, Bangalore.

This election saw the defeat of 23 former ministers who served under three different BJP chief ministers. Perhaps, the most significant aspect of the BJP’s rout has been its defeat in the coastal districts, the region that provided the party with its ideological oxygen. Out of 13 constituencies in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts, it won in just two, as against 8 it won in 2008. The party’s performance has also fallen in Bangalore city, where it won 12 out of 28 constituencies, as against 17 in 2008. While it is the Congress that is the lead beneficiary of the BJP’s losses in the regions of Bombay Karnataka, Hyderabad Karnataka and coastal Karnataka, the JD(S) has consolidated its position in the nine districts of Old Mysore, winning 28 seats. The party has made unexpected inroads into north Karnataka, where it has won 12 seats. The so-called Yeddyurappa factor is only one part of the explanation for the BJP’s losses, notwithstanding the fact that the KJP won in six constituencies and was the runner up in 31. The verdict is essentially a resounding negative vote against the party that led the government in the last five years. Accepting the party’s defeat, Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar submitted his resignation to Governor H.R. Bhardwaj on Wednesday evening. Mr. Shettar will continue as caretaker Chief Minister till the new Congress Chief Minister is sworn in.

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