A tumultuous and bitterly fought election for the Karnataka Assembly has thrown up a weird result. The ruling Congress is heading towards getting 78 seats while the main opposition BJP is looking at 104 seats. The third main party in fray, JD (S) is winning 37 seats. Elections were held for 222 out of 224 seats in the Assembly with two seats to go to polls later. That means the halfway mark is 111 and a party or alliance needs 112 to get a simple majority and form the govt.
In terms of vote shares, Congress has improved its vote share from 36.6% in the last Assembly elections held in 2013 to 37.9% this time round. The BJP has got 36.1% votes while the JD(S) has 18.5% (all data till 4:20 pm). In a quirk of the first-past-the-post system despite getting the single largest vote share, Congress is way behind in terms of seats won. This is mainly because Congress is much more evenly spread across the state, and BJP not so much.
So, the result was a hung house with no party getting a majority. Arch rivals Congress and BJP have both lost in a sense. Congress was the ruling party and its loss of majority is an indictment of its policies that failed to resolve the distress of farmers and unemployed, urban woes and the continuing water crisis. Rahul Gandhi’s extensive campaign notwithstanding, the Siddharamaiah govt. was unable to win over voters through his diverse ‘Bhagya’ schemes or the Kannada pride invocations.
But the BJP is perhaps the bigger loser, mainly because it pitched everything into this campaign. Prime Minister Modi addressed 21 public rallies and claimed that he connected with millions through his app. Party President and chief strategist Amit Shah started off way back in November 2017 by launching the Parivarthan Yatra and was virtually camping in the state. Backed by the central govt. the state BJP promised a bonanza of Rs.2.4 lakh crore in its manifesto. Chief minister candidate Yeddyurappa (who had to quit in his earlier stint because of corruption charges) undertook a tour of all the constituencies. The BJP even roped in the infamous Reddy brothers accused in the Bellary mining scam, perhaps to take advantage of their enormous wealth.
The party deployed the usual strategy of spreading communal poison insidiously even while claiming to provide ‘vikas’ or development for everybody. There were communal riots in coastal districts earlier this year as a result of this. Shah proclaimed his Mission 150 - target of winning 150 seats in the state. But, as in Gujarat, he has again failed in Karnataka. In Gujarat BJP managed to scrape through with a much reduced majority. But here, it has lost. After leaving no stone unturned, the BJP has managed to muster just 104 seats (as of 4:20 pm) short of the majority mark.
BJP’s defeat and its isolation – no other party is willing to go with them – meant that the space for a new political alignment was created. This was grabbed with alacrity by Congress, which offered to have an alliance with JD(S). Put together, these two parties can muster 115 seats which takes them beyond the halfway mark.
There are well-founded fears that the state governor Vajubhai Vala may prevent the fledgling alliance from assuming power. The largest single party is the BJP, though short of majority. Vala being an old RSS hand and Modi acolyte – he once vacated his Gujarat Assembly seat Rajkot West to accommodate Modi back in 2002 – many fear that he may try to queer the pitch for the Congress-JD(S). These fears are well founded because in some of the recent elections – Goa and Manipur for example – governors helped out the BJP and its allies in taking power even though there was a different single largest party. Here, the converse can be allowed to happen. Sensing this imminent danger, Congress has declared that JD(S) state president H.D.Kumaraswamy will be the chief minister who in turn has conveyed this to the Governor.
If the Kumaraswamy led Cong-JD(S) alliance govt. is formed, it will face one immediate challenge. That is keeping the flock of their MLAs secure. Last time when these two parties formed a coalition govt in 2004, it collapsed in 2006 after Kumaraswamy left his party with 42 MLAs and joined up with BJP to form the govt. with himself as the CM.
But the biggest task before the coalition govt. – if it is formed – will be to win back the support of people through some genuinely pro-people policies not gimmickery. This will include addressing the farmers’issues, developing a strategy for management of water and – the biggest challenge – creating jobs for the growing army of unemployed in the state. If they don’t get their act together on this, the door will be open for the BJP to storm in.