BENGALURU: The Congress was striding forward with leads in 117 seats while the BJP was ahead in 75 in Karnataka, according to Election Commission of India trends, as votes were counted on Saturday for an election widely seen as a litmus test for both parties ahead of the 2024 parliamentary polls.
With a much-needed victory tantalisingly close in the crucial southern state, early celebrations broke out at the opposition Congress headquarters in Bengaluru and Delhi. BJP leaders, hoping to break a 38-year jinx of Karnataka not voting an incumbent to power, looked at a possible loss but waited till counting ended to analyse why and how.
By 11 am, trends for all the 224 seats in the state were known. At 117 seats, the Congress was a notch ahead of the magic number of 113, while the BJP was looking at the 75 mark. The Janata Dal-S (JD-S), hoping to become kingmaker, was leading in 25 seats. While many in the BJP said it was too early to call the election, Congress workers and leaders, desperately looking to reverse its electoral fortunes and position itself as the main opposition player in 2024, were jubilant.
“The Congress will win with over 120 seats,” Congress leaderSiddaramaiah, the man who could be the next chief minister if his party comes to power, told reporters in Mysuru. ?We will come back with a heavy majority. This is a message for the BJP. Please stick to issues that matter to everyday lives of India and don’t try to divide India,? the party’s Pawan Khera added in Delhi.
With a possible win on the horizon, his colleague Shama Mohammed echoed him and hundreds of party workers who danced to the beat of drums and burst crackers in jubilation. “The Bharat Jodo Yatra made a lot of difference,” she said, referring to the Kanyakumari to Kashmir campaign headed by Rahul Gandhi who walked some 3,000 km over three months.
Chief Minister and BJP leader Basavaraj Bommai described result day as a big day for Karnataka. “I am confident that our BJP will get an absolute majority… Despite the rivalry, people voted very calmly,” Bommai, who was leading in his seat Shiggaon, told reporters in the morning as counting gathered pace. Former chief minister Sadananda Gowda agreed.
“We will reach 115 to 120 seats this time,” Gowda said in the morning. Another former chief minister Jagadish Shettar, who quit the BJP to join the Congress ahead of the assembly elections, was trailing from his Hubballi-Dharwad Central seat. Hoping for a win that would make his party a key player come government formation, JD-S leader and also former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy visited the Shri Basaveshwara Gayatri temple to offer prayers.
Counting for the elections – which witnessed a record turnout of 73.19 per cent – began at 8 am across 36 centres. Elaborate security arrangements were made across the state, particularly in and around the counting centres, to avoid any untoward incidents, official sources said. Most exit polls had predicted a tight contest between the Congress and BJP. Several pollsters gave an edge to the Congress over the ruling BJP, while indicating the possibility of a hung assembly.
“A government with full majority” was the strong pitch of leaders of all political parties during the high-decibel, no holds barred campaigning that ended on Monday. The stress was on a clear mandate to form a strong and stable government, unlike 2018 when BJP emerged as the single largest party with 104 seats. The Congress had 80 seats and JD-S 37. There was also one independent member, while the BSP and Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party (KPJP) had one seat each.
With no party getting a clear majority, the Congress and JD-S tried to forge an alliance. BJP’s B S Yediyurappa staked claim and formed the government. However, it was dissolved within three days, ahead of a trust vote, as the saffron party strongman was unable to muster the numbers. Subsequently, the Congress and JD-S alliance formed the government with Kumaraswamy as chief minister. But the wobbly dispensation collapsed in 14 months, triggered by the resignation of 17 ruling coalition legislators who then defected to the BJP.
This enabled the BJP’s return to power. In the outgoing Assembly, the ruling BJP has 116 MLAs, followed by the Congress 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).