Bangalore: By coming within a whisker of forming its first government in south India entirely on its own strength, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, has shifted the political momentum further away from the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance at the Centre, raising fears of a policy paralysis ahead of a series of assembly polls followed by the next general elections due within a year.
A politically diminished Congress will find it tough to convince its feisty allies such as the Left parties to sign off on key policy decisions, including raising fuel prices and inking the civilian nuclear deal with the US. A UPA-Left meeting is scheduled for 28 May.
(From second left) BJP general secretary Ananth Kumar, the party’s chief ministerial candidate B.S. Yeddyurappa and state unit president D.V. Sadananda Gowda after the results (Photo by: Hemant Mishra / Mint)
The BJP emerged as the single largest party in 13th Karnataka legislative assembly with 110 of the state’s 224 assembly seats, just three short of a simple majority. While the Congress picked up 15 additional seats, compared to its tally of 65 in 2004, the Janata Dal (Secular) led by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda emerged as the biggest loser with its share of seats dropping to 28 from 58 in the previous assembly.
“The countdown for the Congress and the UPA has started,” claimed Ananth Kumar, BJP national general secretary and parliamentarian from Bangalore. “This election is just the semi-final and our next goal is the Union government.”
L.K. Advani, BJP’s candidate for the prime minister’s post, called the victory a “turning point” for the party, comparable to the quantum jump from two to 86 MPs in 1989 Lok Sabha polls. “Another turning point has arrived in the challenge put up by the BJP to the hegemony of the Congress,” he said in a written statement.
Analysts, however, said that the BJP had its limitations as well, particularly its ability, much like the Congress, to compete with the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, the state which sends the highest number of members to Lok Sabha. Besides that, they said the BJP would also face public discontent in the states it was ruling, including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
Karnataka was a key state for the Congress to win, having lost 12 state elections since it assumed power, including in key states such as Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
The BJP is expected to stake claim to form a government on Monday with the support of some of the six independent candidates who have won from Kanakagiri, Malavalli, Pavagada, Kolar, Hiriyur and Hosadurga constituencies. The Kanakagiri seat has been won by a BJP rebel, Shivaraj Tangadagi.
“Already, we have heard that some independents are interested in supporting our party,” said D.V. Sadananda Gowda, the BJP’s Karnataka unit president.
The BJP fought the election mainly on the issue of price rise, stability and national security, though it also hoped to encash on a “sympathy wave” after its coalition partner, Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), reneged on a pact to hand over power to the party. In response, the Congress had made several populist promises such as free colour TVs for all below poverty line card holders and rice at Rs2 per kg through the public distribution system.
Economist Parth J. Shah, president of the Centre for Civil Society, a New Delhi-based non-partisan think tank, said Karnataka polls had proved that populist policies were not enough to propel a party to power any longer. “Now, if these results prove anything, it is that the sops offered in the Union Budget and thereafter promised specifically for the state didn’t quite work,” Shah said.
Significantly, the magic of Mayawati, the Bahujan Samaj Party, or BSP, leader, promised by the party’s national general secretary P.G.R. Sindhia, failed.
Similarly, the Samajwadi Party suffered the ignominy of its state chief S. Bangarappa losing against the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate B.S. Yeddyurappa in Shikaripura.
Yeddyurappa said: “I don’t want to rake up old issues. Now, the agenda is only development. I want the support of all the sections and parties for this.”
“We accept the people’s verdict and we are prepared to sit in the opposition,” said Mallikarjuna Kharge, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president.
Most of the BJP’s gains have come from regions such as Bangalore city, where it won 17 out of the 28 seats, and central Karnataka, where it swept through the districts of Bellary (eight out of nine seats), Davanagere (seven out of eight seats) and Shimoga (five out of seven) seats.
The party also held on to most of its seats in north Karnataka though it lost a few seats to both the Congress and the JD(S) in its stronghold of coastal Karnataka. In spite of its best efforts, the BJP failed to make a substantial impact in the Vokkaliga-dominated southern part of the state.
Sudha Pai, chairperson of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for Political Studies, said: “Karnataka poll results may not have a bearing on the next Lok Sabha polls, but this is definitely a huge boost to the BJP and yet another wake-up call for the Congress.”
Ashish Sharma in New Delhi contributed to this story.