In a resounding victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah who ran a pitched campaign for Karnataka, the party emerged as the single largest in the state by over 25 seats. In a house of 224 seats, 222 of which went to the polls on May 12, the BJP could, however, fall short of a majority, with the JD(S) emerging as kingmaker thanks to leads in 38 seats. At 4 pm on counting day, as Chief Minister Siddaramaiah met Governor Vajubhai Vala to submit his resignation after announcing that the Congress was ready to back the JD(S) to form a coalition government, the BJP’s tally of seats where it had won or was leading in stood at 104, the Congress’ at 78 and that of the JD(S) at 38. Together, the Congress and the JD(S), with 116 seats, could cross the magic number of 112. “The people of Karnataka voted for change,” said the BJP’s chief minister candidate BS Yeddyurappa, addressing a press conference in Bengaluru. “Responding to the clarion call given by Prime Minister Modiji… they have given a mandate for a Congress-free Karnataka.”
The next few hours will be crucial to the fate of Karnataka. The JD(S) has accepted the Congress’ offer and wants to install Kumaraswamy, who had appealed for votes citing his poor health, as chief minister. Congress and BJP MLAs have returned to the state capital to ensure solidarity, and senior leaders from Delhi have flown in to net fence-sitting independents. In a throwback to the 2004 Assembly elections, when the BJP had emerged as the single largest party winning 79 seats, the Congress with 65 seats and the JD(S) with 58 formed the government, with Dharam Singh taking over as chief minister, a coalition seems to be on the cards. By late afternoon on May 15, JD(S) supremo HD Deve Gowda’s residence was engulfed by celebrations even as the BJP camp, which had expected to win over 112 seats based on early leads, appeared subdued.
The Congress’s vote share, at the time of publishing this story, stood at 37.9 per cent, above the BJP’s 36.2 per cent and the JD(S)’ 18.4 per cent. Notable setbacks for the Congress included a dozen ministers who were trailing in their respective constituencies, and Siddaramaiah’s brutal defeat in Chamundeshwari to his former colleague JD(S) leader GT Deve Gowda who sailed through with over 36,000 more votes than the chief minister. Siddaramaiah managed to win against the BJP’s B Sriramulu in Badami, Bagalkot district, with a margin of 1,696 votes.
The Congress’ gamble to secure Lingayat support by recommending a separate religion for the community may have backfired. Besides, a rout in coastal Karnataka and incumbency against sitting MLAs, most of whom were given tickets, could have gone against the Congress. For the BJP, Prime Minister Modi’s campaign blitzkreig days before the elections seems to have done the trick.