Sending out a clear signal for change, Karnataka voters have decimated the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party and given the Congress an unambiguous mandate, with 135 seats in the 224-member Legislative Assembly. The acid test for the Congress will now be to choose a Chief Minister, with both Leader of the Opposition and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president D.K. Shivakumar publicly jockeying for the post in the run-up to the election.
In the results declared on Saturday for the election held on May 10, the Congress improved its tally from the 80 seats it won in 2018, powering to 135 seats on the back of a robust unified campaign promising free rice, power and income support, and building a case against the BJP based on local issues of corruption and governance.
As it happened | 2023 Karnataka Assembly election results
In contrast, the BJP largely flagged “double engine” government benefits and used polarising communal rhetoric during its much-advertised campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Many of its senior ministers were also swept out of their seats by the Congress wave. This result continues Karnataka’s record of not re-electing incumbent governments.
The results of the Jayanagar seat in Bengaluru were declared after high drama. After what seemed to be an unending counting and examination of votes, BJP candidate C.K. Ramamurthy was declared the winner against Congress’s incumbent MLA Sowmya Reddy by a slim margin of 16 votes.
Ceding southern citadel
The defeat of the BJP in the only south Indian State where it had managed to establish a strong presence marks a stunning defeat for a party that has tried hard to grow beyond the Hindi heartland.
While the BJP’s seats declined sharply to 66 against 104 in 2018, the H.D. Kumaraswamy-led Janata Dal (Secular) — which was counting on a hung Assembly to revive its fortunes — slid to the sidelines with just 19 seats, against 37 in 2018. The decline of 18 seats, largely came in the old Mysore region, which has been seen as a JD(S) stronghold.
In 2018, the BJP had won 104 seats, but fell short of a majority. After the collapse of the coalition government led by H.D. Kumaraswamy, the BJP came to power in 2019 following the defections of 14 MLAs from the Congress and three from the JD(S).
The Karnataka victory against the BJP will boost the Congress’ prospects in the forthcoming Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where both parties will directly face off in the Hindi heartland. The BJP, which had linked its fortunes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma by decimating its own State leadership will be forced to rework its centralised campaign strategy over the coming months.
The Karnataka results have also sent out a powerful message to the party’s sceptical allies in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), that it is not yet a spent force. This election victory will put the Congress party, and especially its former president Rahul Gandhi, as the central character of Opposition politics nationally.
It remains to be seen how the Congress will take forward this victory, and how it will try to project the victory into other States where it is not the principal opponent of the BJP. How it will hammer it out with regional partners is a crucial factor to track as the country shifts gear to the campaign for the 2024 general election.
The main challenges before the Congress are providing stability in the State — which has seen three Chief Ministers during the last five years — and implementing its election manifesto of five “guarantees” catering to the welfare of lower income communities in the run-up to the general elections, which is just a year away.
In terms of vote share, the Congress has increased its vote from 38.04% in 2018 to 42.91 in 2023, while the BJP’s vote share declined marginally from 36.22% to 35.97. The JD (S) vote share declined sharply from 18.36% in 2018 to 13.3% in 2023.
Winners and losers
Some of the prominent winners in the results declared on Saturday are Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, Shiggaon; former CM Siddaramaiah, from Varuna; KPCC president D.K. Shivakumar from Kanakapura; H.D. Kumaraswamy, Channapatna; B.Y. Vijayendra, Shikaripura; R.V. Deshpande from Haliyal; and G. Parameshwara, from Koratagere.
Analysis | BJP’s southern charge blunted
Among the high-profile candidates who lost were former Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar (Congress), Hubbali Central; Legislative Assembly Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri and 12 Ministers in the erstwhile Bommai government. The defeated Ministers are Govind Karjol, B. Sriramulu, V. Somanna, J.C. Madhuswamy, Murgesh Nirani, B.C. Patil, K. Sudhakar, MTB Nagaraj, Narayana Gowda, B.C. Nagesh, Halappa Achar, and Shankar Patil Munekoppa.
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai submitted his resignation to Governor Thawar Chand Gehlot late on Saturday evening. He will continue as a caretaker CM until his successor is sworn in.