BJP creates history in Karnataka, Congress humbled all over (National Roundup)

May 25th, 2008 - 8:29 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi
By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, May 25 (IANS) After decades of waiting, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Sunday scripted history as it dramatically bagged top honours in the Karnataka election to rule a state in south India on its own strength for the first time. In the process, the BJP dealt a major blow to the Congress, which also suffered huge defeats in all three Lok Sabha by-elections for which results were declared Sunday. BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani promptly claimed that 2008 would prove to be a year of change in politics for India, where a new parliamentary election is due next year.

As if losing Karnataka was not bad enough, the Congress was trounced in the Lok Sabha seats of Thane in Maharashtra (by Shiv Sena), Tura in Meghalaya (by Nationalist Congress Party) and Hamirpur in Himachal Pradesh (by BJP). In Punjab, the ruling Akali Dal won the Amritsar-south assembly seat. In Haryana, the Congress won two of the three assembly by-elections but failed to prevent former chief minister Bhajan Lal, its former leader, from winning the Adampur seat for the 10th consecutive time.

But it was the failure to regain power in Karnataka and, worse, the loss of its former bastion to the BJP in a decisive way that stunned the Congress. One leader frankly admitted he had no idea what had gone wrong while another, speaking off the record, said party president Sonia Gandhi too was to blame for the mess in Karnataka.

The BJP, which tasted power for just a week in November last year before being toppled by the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S), swept large parts of Karnataka to end up with 110 seats - just short of the magical figure of 113 needed to form a government. This was a significant rise from the 79 seats it bagged in 2004 when too it became the largest single group but could not take power.

The Congress bagged 80 seats, up from 65 in 2004. The biggest loser was the JD-S, whose tally fell to 28 from 58 in 2004. Independents and smaller groups claimed six seats.

BJP’s chief ministerial aspirant B.S. Yediyurappa, 65, said he would call on the governor Monday to stake claim to form a government. He said some independents were in touch with his party and would extend support to the BJP. “We have not won a clear majority but the verdict is for a BJP government,” he said.

A Hindu nationalist who began his political career as an activist of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) at the age of 23, Yediyurappa is not without his enemies in his party. Friends say that he often visits temples and mutts seeking blessings. He also consults astrologers frequently.

The election result in Karnataka was a milestone in Indian politics. For the first time, the BJP, which for decades had been dubbed a ‘north India party’, would form a government in any of the four major southern states.

In New Delhi, Advani underlined the importance of the Karnataka verdict.

“After the BJP’s decisive victories in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh towards the end of 2007, I had stated that 2008 would turn out to be a ‘Year of Change’ in national politics. My affirmation has been vindicated by the triumphant performance of the BJP in Karnataka,” he said in a statement.

And BJP president Rajnath Singh claimed separately that the Karnataka victory had made his party the front-runner for the next Lok Sabha battle. “It is a major milestone in BJP’s history.”

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi went a step ahead and said the Karnataka outcome would mark the beginning of the end for the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). “This is the first time the BJP has got a clear mandate on its own in a southern state.”

In contrast, many Congress leaders were simply silenced - or fumbled for reactions.

“We do not know how we lost,” Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi told IANS. “We will analyse the results, the reasons for our defeat and our functioning.”

Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan, the general secretary in charge of the Karnataka election, blamed the JD-S for dividing the secular votes, saying this helped the BJP.

Congress spokeswoman Jayanthi Natarajan claimed that the Karnataka result would not affect national politics. But most analysts thought otherwise, saying it was bound to weaken further the Congress, which has lost a string of state elections in recent times.

While the BJP won 16 of 21 seats in Bangalore city, India’s IT hub, several Congress stalwarts lost. This included former Congress chief minister N. Dharam Singh, who failed to make it to the assembly for the 10th time in a row, losing by just 77 votes.

But despite the drubbing it got everywhere, JD-S leader and former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, whose failure to share power with the BJP gave the latter plenty of sympathy votes, won decisively from Ramanagaram, beating rookie Congress candidate Mamatha Hegde, daughter of late chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde. He won by some 47,000 votes.

Yediyurappa credited the BJP’s victory in Karnataka to party strategist Arun Jaitley. The BJP fought the contest on a three-point plan: ‘betrayal, inflation, terrorism’. It went hammer and tongs against the Congress for failing to check soaring food prices - and the idea clicked.

Elsewhere in the country, the Shiv Sena retained the Thane Lok Sabha constituency with Anand Paranjpe winning the by-election with an impressive margin of 86,000 votes against his nearest rival, Sanjeev Naik of the NCP. Anand is the son of Shiv Sena MP Prakash Paranjpe, whose death in February led to the poll.

In Meghalaya, NCP’s Agatha Kongkal Sangma, daughter of former Lok Sabha speaker Purno Sangma, won the Tura Lok Sabha seat by a record 181,760 votes, defeating Congress candidate Zenith Sangma.

The BJP had good news in Himachal Pradesh too. Its Anurag Thakur, son of Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, won the Hamirpur Lok Sabha seat by a margin of nearly 175,000 votes.

In Haryana, the Congress won the assembly by-elections from Indri and Gohana seats. But Bhajan Lal retained his Adampur assembly seat as the head of the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC).

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