Results to the Assembly Election in Karnataka are along predictable lines. Congress has emerged as the winner, BJP has been demolished and Janata Dal (Secular) refuses to be written off.
Despite this very foreseeable outcome – even most exit polls got it right this time – there is a sobering reality underlining it. First, there is no sweeping sentiment; Congress has won by a slim margin in the 224-seat house and that is therefore no endorsement of its brave assertion of ‘we survive everything’.
Second, national issues had little bearing, and like most states Karnataka voted on the basis of factors that affect the daily lives of the people – things like governance and civic amenities.
Third, even if Congress would have us believe it, the elections cannot be seen as a victory of Rahul Gandhi, who took some time out to campaign in the state. In the same vein, the results should also be viewed as a wake-up call for Narendra Modi for he has a long way to go before he is accepted as a national leader. Even though he campaigned only briefly, the BJP fared poorly in all the regions he visited like central and coastal Karnataka or Bangalore.
Salman Khurshid lost no time in saying, "Message for Modi is that there is no Modi." That may be an overstatement but not entirely out of place.
A big setback for the BJP, which tied at second place, is also that its Deputy CM K S Eshwarappa has lost in Shimoga, stamping loss of confidence of the people in the incumbent leadership.
Amidst all this, one factor has remained a constant over the decades. The fox of Karnataka politics HD Devegowda remains pertinent to state even in his loss and his legacy is being carried forward by his younger son HD Kumaraswamy. Devegowda has always amazed with his hunger for power - after all how many will accept being chief minister after having been the prime minister once – and with his instinct to remain relevant.
But the joker of the elections this time was clearly BJP rebel BS Yeddyurappa, whose breakaway Karnataka Janata Paksha, was possibly one of the main factors for BJP’s terrible showing. Yeddyurappa ate away at the party’s roots after having singlehandedly won the first southern bastion for the BJP and also significantly fragmented the Lingayat votebank, even if he managed no significant political victory for the KJP. In a sense, except taking comfort from sweet revenge, he did more harm to others than good to himself.
What Yeddyurappa did to the BJP, JD(S) has done to some extent to the Congress. It has nibbled away at its votebank in areas like Mysore where the electorate had punished it earlier for its betrayal of the BJP. While the Congress has won by 2:1 ration in urban cities, JD(S) damaged it in rural parts.
As far as regionwise outcomes were concerned, Congress made small gains in Bangalore where it managed under 50% of the seats, while JD(S) has gained significantly. Mumbai Karnataka has possibly been the best success story of the Congress. This is obviously where Yeddyurappa has had maximum impact on the prospects of the BJP. The Congress has also regained in the northern region of Hyderabad Karnataka, but has fared worst in the Southern part of the state where JD(S) has made most gains. The 2008 results got swapped in the western and coastal regions, where Congress wrested most of the seats BJP had won last time.
Interestingly, while an indicted Yeddyurappa, who also bears the ignominy of being the first chief minister of India to go to jail, had the ability to dent his former party, the tainted Reddy brothers have received a drubbing in Bellary.
Also while Lakshman Savadi, who was one of the three MLAs caught watching pornography in the Assembly, won, his co-accused colleagues CC Patil and Krishna Palemar thankfully lost.
Considering the mixed fate of these tainted politicos there can be no certain verdict on how the moral question pans out. But it is precisely moral high ground that BJP chose to take after the picture from down south became clear.
Ravi Shankar Prasad said the party had been faced with the choice between principle and power in the run up to the elections. They had failed today, but not buckled under the bullying tactics of their former CM or compromised on corruption.
Meanwhile, the race for chief ministership has picked pace. Sonia Gandhi’s supposed favourite and Karnataka Congress chief G Parameshwara – who was confident of getting 120 plus seats in the morning today, has lost his own seat.
This would open the gates for Leader of Opposition Siddaramiah or someone like Union Minister Veerappa Moily, who is an ethnic Tuluva and was the CM in 1992-94, or even Mallikarjuna Kharge. Kharge has the advantage of having won every election till date and is also a Dalit. If we stretch, installing a Dalit may be seen as a foil by the Congress against the BSP in General Elections. On the other hand, Siddaramaiah, who rightly sees himself as a frontrunner, cannot be sure of his being nominated as CM because he is not perceived as a 10 Janpath confidant or loyalist.
As far as SM Krishna is concerned, he was reduced to a non-entity in the state even before ballots were cast. When he was moved out of the Centre there was speculation that he was being readied for state role, but it was not to be. Not only were his handpicked candidates not given preference for tickets, film star-turned-politician Ambareesh whom he was opposing has won from Mandya seat.
Overall, despite the victory, Congress should ideally not be in a celebratory mood and there is no reason for them to gloat about their triumph in the south. What they must accept is that Karnataka elections are neither a positive verdict on the scam soiled government at the Centre nor a defeat of the BJP ideology, as asserted by PM Manmohan Singh.
If anything Karnataka elections are about what factionalism can do to a corruption riddled party, which cares little for governance issues.
And if that is the reading, Congress better watch the wall for results in 2014.