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BJP takes Karnataka
First win in a southern state
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, May 25
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) today shook off the popular perception of being a north Indian party and is set to form its first government in the southern state of Karnataka.

The saffron outfit emerged as the single largest party in Karnataka by securing 110 seats out of the 224-member Vidhan Sabha, giving it an unassailable edge over its political opponents. Albeit the Congress did manage to increase its tally from 65 to 80 seats, the improvement was not good enough to take it past the finishing line.

The Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (S), which had discredited itself by first allying with the Congress and then forming a government with the BJP, secured only 28 of the 58 seats it had won last time. In the process, its hopes of playing the ‘kingmaker’ were also dashed.

The BJP was, predictably, quick to point out that the party’s social and geographical expansion in Karnataka will prove to be a gateway to the south and make the party a frontrunner for next year’s Lok Sabha polls.

Although the Congress was equally quick to refute this declaration, saying one assembly result is not a reflection of the mood of the country, the UPA, especially Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, will come under increasing pressure on the emotive issue of price rise which cost the party dearly in Karnataka.

“The single most significant impact is that the BJP has now become the frontrunner for the Lok Sabha polls and the victory has given a pan-Indian presence to the party,” said BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley.

The party’s confidence stems from the fact that it has registered consistent victories in a series of assembly elections over the last one year and the Karnataka win has proved to be the proverbial icing on the cake.

The BJP has made it on its own in Karnataka by winning support across regions and castes. It held on to its urban vote, consolidated Lingayat support in its favour by projecting a member of their caste — B.S. Yedyurappa — as its chief ministerial candidate, made inroads in to the rural belt and even garnered the support of Dalits, who have traditionally voted for the Congress or the JD (S).

While the Congress had hoped to garner the seats lost by the JD (S) (as the two share the same support base), it is the BJP which has benefitted from the losses incurred by Deve Gowda’s party. The BJP was also riding on a strong undercurrent of sympathy for its CM candidate Yeddyurappa after he was dislodged from power by the JD (S). He has exacted his revenge and will be sworn in on May 28.

In sharp contrast to the BJP, the mood in the Congress camp was understandably sombre as it has lost 11 assembly elections over the past one year. Congress leader in charge of Karnataka Prithviraj Chavan maintained that his party was defeated because secular votes were divided between it and the JD(S). The party is yet to recover from the shock defeat of some of its star leaders such as former chief minister Dharam Singh, R.V. Deshpande and M.P. Prakash, which has cost the party at least seven seats.

Besides other factors, Chavan admitted that rising inflation and the blasts in Jaipur and Hubli had only served to strengthen the BJP’s charge that the UPA government is soft on terrorism. “Price rise and terrorism were the BJP’s two main election planks,” he said.

However, Chavan disagreed that the Congress paid the price for its failure to project a Chief Minister. “This has its merits and demerits. Krishna was the CM last time but we lost,” he explained, pointing out that if they had projected S.M Krishna again by ignoring the party’s Dalit face Mallikarjun Kharge, they would have lost SC support not only in Karnataka but in other states as well.



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