Sometimes, the ruling party is the opposition’s biggest benefactor. In Karnataka, the Congress returned to power with a comfortable majority on the strength of what was clearly a mandate against the Bharatiya Janata Party. All that the BJP was trying to do against the Congress at the national level, the Congress successfully did against the BJP in Karnataka. Corruption, nepotism, non-governance, inefficiency, and instability all constituted the campaign themes in this multi-cornered contest. For this very reason, the Congress might have more lessons to learn from its victory than the BJP from its defeat. If the Karnataka Assembly election is a pointer to the national mood, it is as a verdict against corruption and non-governance, not as an endorsement of the Congress and the many scams that have unfolded under the watch of the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre. Indeed, the fact that the Janata Dal (Secular) got as many seats as the BJP is an indication that the vote was primarily anti-incumbent and pro-change, and not necessarily pro-Congress. While it is true that the exit of former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa hurt the BJP badly, there was a clear away-swing from the ruling party, with the Congress being the principal gainer.

For five years, the BJP wrestled with its own internal problems, spending more time and effort on survival than on governance. After having come to power in the southern State more as a non-Congress alternative than as a Hindutva extremist party, the BJP got everything wrong within a few months of the 2008 election. The party appeared beholden to the Bellary mining lobby, and Mr. Yeddyurappa was left with the difficult task of holding his flock together in the face of inducements from factions within his own party. Clearly, the focus was on ensuring Independents and BJP legislators were kept happy with cabinet berths and official posts. In coastal Karnataka, no effort was made to curb the thuggish acts of Hindutva vigilantes. Matters came to a head when Mr. Yeddyurappa was caught in allegations of corruption, and had to step down after being indicted by the Lokayukta. From then on began the unseemly spectacle of Mr. Yeddyurappa trying to make a puppet of his successors, first Sadananda Gowda and then Jagadish Shettar. The national leadership of the BJP, which was on an anti-corruption campaign drive against the Congress at the Centre, was at a loss in Karnataka, where its government was mired in corruption cases and scandals. For the Congress, the victory in Karnataka will be difficult to replicate, not only in other States, but also in the 2014 parliamentary election. If the Congress is not careful, Karnataka 2013 might turn out to be more of a blip than a spark.