A resurgent Congress appeared headed for a simple majority in Karnataka, and on course to wrest power from the BJP in a morale-boosting victory ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha elections.
As per the latest trends, the M Mallikarjun Kharge-led party was leading in 119 constituencies, well above the 113-mark needed for a majority in the 224-member House, elections to which were held on May 10.
The BJP, which won 104 seats in the previous Assembly elections, was ahead in 74 segments and the JD(S) led by former Chief Minister H D Deve Gowda in 24. Others were leading in seven segments.
While Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai (Shiggaon), former CM Siddaramaiah (Varuna), state Congress President D K Shivakumar (Kanakapura) and JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy (Channapatna) are among the prominent faces leading in their respective segments, Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil (Ramanagara), BJP national General Secretary C T Ravi (Chikkamagaluru) and former CM Jagadish Shettar of the Congress (Hubli-Dharwad Central) are trailing.
Siddaramaiah said the party will come to power on its own strength by winning over 120 seats.
The visits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and national BJP President J P Nadda have had no impact on the voters of Karnataka, he said.
“Congress party will win by getting over 120 seats; it (counting) is still in the initial stage, more rounds of counting have to be completed. So Congress will come to power by getting over 120 seats on its own strength,” the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly said.
Putting up a united front, Congress leaders said making corruption a central campaign theme and promise of free rice, power and employment dole are among the factors that contributed to the party’s good performance.
In addition, the Muslim vote, which accounted for nearly 13 per cent of the electorate, consolidated in favour of the Congress party sources said.
“We have put up a united front”, a senior Congress leader said. “We were one step ahead in the narratives”.
Congress had been attacking the Basavaraj Bommai-led administration months before the elections, and charged it with being a “40 per cent commission” government, while accusing it of corruption.
The Congress had announced five key pre-poll guarantees and said it would give them a stamp of approval in the maiden Cabinet meeting if voted to power.
They are: 200 units of free power to all households (Gruha Jyoti), Rs 2,000 monthly assistance to the woman head of every family (Gruha Lakshmi), 10 kg of rice free to every member of a BPL household (Anna Bhagya), Rs 3,000 every month for unemployed graduate youth and Rs 1,500 for unemployed diploma holders (both in the age group of 18-25) for two years (Yuva Nidhi), and free travel for women in public transport buses (Shakti).
“Women voters seemed to have found fancy for our guarantees”, a Congress party functionary said. “The BJP themselves had a lot of bickering. They were not happy with the government and governance. High corruption and price rise were other factors that led to our performance”.
The performance of the Congress, which put up an aggressive campaign, has come as a boost to its president Mallikarjun Kharge, who hails from Karnataka.
“Karnataka happens to be his home State. Naturally, there was a bit of pressure on him”, a senior Congress leader said.
In the 2018 Assembly elections, the BJP emerged as the single largest party by winning 104 seats, followed by Congress with 80 seats and JD(S) 37. The Congress and JD(S) forged a post-poll alliance but the Kumaraswamy-led government collapsed a year later following defections.
The BJP subsequently formed government with the help of the rebel legislators of the Congress and JD(S).
In the outgoing Assembly, the ruling BJP has 116 MLAs, followed by the Congress at 69, JD(S) 29, BSP one, independents two, speaker one and vacant six (following deaths and resignations to join other parties ahead of the polls).