BJP is set to form its first government in south India, when it won 110 seats in the Karnataka Assembly, finishing just three short of the majority mark of 113. Its leader B S Yeddyurappa, a 65-year-old former RSS worker, is set to take oath of office on May 28.
Congress held inflation, perception of weak management of internal security and BJP’s successful campaign as the chief culprits.
Karnataka has not quite been a virgin territory for BJP which had steadily expanded its footprints since the 1990s.BJP won 4 Lok Sabha seats in 1991. It performed strongly in picking 31% vote share in 2004, but its well-wishers had not credited it with more than an outside chance of forming a government of its own when the Karnataka campaign started last month. The results give the saffron outfit a psychological edge, while making it incumbent for Congress to pull out all stops when the battle between the two chief rivals for the Centre shifts to the next battleground: elections in BJP-ruled Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The leader of the opposition, L K Advani, was quick to call the win a “turning point” in the run-up to the next general elections and a sign of Congress shrinking “across the country”.
But the momentum can get reversed if Congress manages to exploit the saffron challenger’s incumbency in the coming state polls. Though Congress leaders rushed to insulate the Manmohan Singh government from any fallout, there are certain implications in terms of its ability to tackle tough political issues like fuel prices. .
Not only will the wiggle room decrease, demands that the government take more measures to stem price rise, a factor that Congress has said hurt its prospects, are bound to become more vociferous.
Congress’s ability to take on difficult allies like the Left will not improve either. This would apply to its ties with UPA partners as well and could mean the final nail in the US-India nuclear deal. The government’s ability to push through legislation will be hampered as even a small partner can prove to be a thorn in the side. The problems will grow larger if inflation, which emerged as a major electoral issue in Karnataka, does not decline.
The Karnataka result is also significant as it was the first state to go to polls after delimitation of new constituencies. The delimitation resulted in an increase in the number of urban constituencies. While the urban voter is considered to be more receptive to BJP’s message, given that the party fared well in both urban and rural areas, it may be premature to rush to any radical judgment.
BJP’s strong showing in rural areas points to the limits of the appeal of the mega farm waiver and should put an end to the notion that the largesse could see the party through.