The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has lost control of a key southern state to the Indian National Congress in a closely watched election, a rare political setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi a year before a national referendum.
According to the results released by the Election Commission of India, the Congress won 135 of the 224 seats in the Karnataka state assembly elections. The BJP won 66 seats, leaving the Congress to form the government without an ally.
Newly elected Congress MLAs in the state will meet on Sunday evening to begin government formation talks.
Karnataka is one of the richest states in India and is the technology hub of Bangalore. This defeat means that the BJP will lose its only ruling state in the south of the country.
Modi campaigned privately a week ahead of Wednesday’s polls, which both the BJP and the Congress described as strategically important. Candidates from both parties raised issues of religion, caste, economy and corruption.
“No matter how hard we tried, we just couldn’t score [that] Presented by everyone from our Prime Minister to the workers,” said Karnataka BJP Chief Minister Basavaraj Pumya in comments broadcast online on Saturday, conceding defeat.
The results will be a major boost for the Congress, which was India’s dominant political party for decades before being crushed by the BJP in national elections in both 2014 and 2019.
A senior Congress official attributed the party’s success to campaigning on local issues.
“The prime minister has instilled division and sought polarization,” said Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh, in-charge of communications. wrote on Twitter. Karnataka has voted for the Bengaluru Engine, which links economic growth with social harmony.
Modi, along with his top deputy and home minister Amit Shah and other officials campaigned on their strength to deliver a “dual engine” government in Karnataka, with the BJP in power in both New Delhi and Bengaluru.
Ahead of the elections, the BJP state government scrapped the 4 percent reservation under affirmative action job quota for minority Muslims and reallocated it to two other backward groups in a move to appeal to its Hindu nationalist base. Muslims constitute 13 percent of Karnataka’s population.
Modi on Saturday congratulated the Congress on its victory. “My best wishes to people to fulfill their aspirations,” he wrote on Twitter.
An analyst said the result was a clear win for the Congress, but most of the party’s gains appeared to come at the expense of the third-largest party, the Janata Dal (Secular), ahead of the BJP.
Bengaluru-based writer and journalist Sukatha Srinivasaraju said, “This is a decisive victory for the Congress.” “But I don’t elaborate on this, I wouldn’t say 2024 will be similar because BJP seems to have maintained its vote share.”
The Congress described the Karnataka polls, along with other upcoming state elections, as a stepping stone to rebuild its base at the national level.
Additional reporting by Jyotsna Singh in New Delhi