Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP’s chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa share a lighter moment during Karnataka election campaign rally at Chamarajanagar on Tuesday. (Source: PTI)

Battle Of Wits In Karnataka As Congress Backs JD(S) To Keep BJP Out

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Janata Dal (Secular), backed by the Indian National Congress, and the Bharatiya Janata Party are staking claim to form the next government in Karnataka after election results thew up a hung assembly.

“As of now, we are working towards a coalition. Mr Kumaraswamy [JD(S) state president] is still a very popular leader,” Rajiv Gowda, Congress parliamentarian, told BloombergQuint. “Congress has more vote share than the BJP. When you add JD(S)' vote share, the lead becomes sizable.”

JD(S) leader Danish Ali confirmed that his party has accepted the Congress’ offer. The two parties will jointly go and meet the governor after 5.30 p.m., he tweeted. “We’re doing everything to keep the BJP out of power.”

The JD(S) also wrote a letter to Governor Vajubhai Rudabhai Vala seeking an appointment. BJP’s chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa too met the governor seeking a chance to prove his majority.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP emerged as the single-largest with 104 seats, short of a simple majority in the 224-member house, according to trends on the Election Commission’s website as of 3:15 p.m. The Congress won or was ahead in 76, while the JD(S) was ahead in 38 seats.

After a tough fight in Gujarat, a victory in Karnataka will bolster Modi’s chances of a return in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and sets the tone for crucial state polls that follow: Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. It’s also a setback for the Congress’ effort to project itself as the leading partner in a possible alliance of opposition parties to take on the BJP. Already, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has been trying to cobble together a third front, blamed the Congress for the loss. The party, she said, should have struck a pre-poll alliance with the JD (S).

Congress’ Gowda said there is no clear mandate in Karnataka, which only comes with a majority. The BJP is just ahead of the other two parties, he said. “In other states like Goa, when the BJP did not get a mandate, they still managed to go ahead and form a government.” The Congress will wait for the actual outcome and then “things will be negotiated between the two parties. I don’t think anything will happen easily.”

The BJP, however, is confident of getting a chance to form the government, being the single-largest party. The mandate is against the Congress and they cannot change it, party spokesman Nalin Kohli told BloombergQuint.

“Writing is on the wall. The vote is against the Congress party. The BJP is the single-largest party and the people of Karnataka have chosen the party,” he said. “The party will decide the course of action post the parliamentary party meeting. The single-largest party will have the chance to form the government.”

Within the Congress, efforts are on to deflect the blame from new party President Rahul Gandhi. Party leader DK Shivakumar, who defied anti-incumbency to win from his pocket borough of Kanakapura, said that local unit failed to cash in on Gandhi’s efforts.

Higher Vote Share Doesn’t Help Congress

The Congress polled more votes across the state with a share of 37.9 percent, according to the Election Commission’s website at 3:20 p.m. That’s higher than the BJP’s 36.2 percent.

Also, since 1985, no ruling coalition or party has won two successive terms in Karnataka. That trend continues in the latest election when voter turnout hit a record 72 percent.

Underscoring the Congress’ rout was incumbent Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s defeat by over 24,000 votes in Chamundeswari in the south — a constituency that he won five times in the past. He managed to win Badami, the second seat he is contesting from, with a slender margin.

Yeddyurappa, meanwhile, won by over 24,000 votes over his nearest competitor in the Shikaripura seat in central Karnataka’s Shivamogga district. The Congress is trying to “grab power” despite being rejected by the people, he said at a media conference in Bengaluru. “People are moving towards a ‘Congress mukt Karnataka’.”

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