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The day began with the ruling Congress taking a comfortable lead over its rivals, but with subsequent rounds of vote count, the saffron party surged ahead. By mid-morning, BJP was leading in 112 seats while the Congress was up in 68. The third main player, JD(S), made steady gains and was ahead in 40 seats. Other parties and independent candidates rounded out the numbers with leads in two constituencies.
Since the 2014 general elections, Congress has been defeated by BJP in over a dozen states, drastically shrinking its political footprint. If the trends in Karnataka hold, the BJP would have secured an outright majority and dealt a crushing defeat to Congress in one of its last remaining bastions.
The Congress, which had been nurturing hopes for a second term in power despite a 30-year-long anti-incumbency streak in the southern state, witnessed a sharp decline in its vote share. It performed poorly across all eight regions of the state and got around 30 per cent of the number of votes polled during the May 12 election.
Conversely, the BJP made inroads in Karnataka, dubbed as the party’s ‘gateway to the south’, and improved its vote share and seat share since 2013. In the outgoing Assembly, the Congress had 122 seats, BJP and JD(S) 40 each, and smaller parties and independents 22 seats.
PM Modi’s populist measures like waiving farmer loans resounded with the electorate as his party was leading in 83 rural constituencies. The saffron party also posted a strong showing in the coastal belt, central and Mumbai Karnataka.
The Deve Gowda-led JD(S) retained its hold over old Mysuru and was leading in 28 seats, while the Congress and BJP were ahead in 17 and 10 seats respectively.
Chief minister Siddaramaiah’s sub-nationalism and Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s ‘soft Hindutva’ did not yield the desired dividends, as the Lingayats favoured the BJP and the Vokkaliga vote went to the JD(S). In an unexpected development, the BJP was leading in 16 Muslim-dominant constituencies, indicating that Congress may have lost out on the community’s support.
Furthermore, Siddaramaiah, who faced heat from the BJP for contesting from two seats, lost to GT Deve Gowda of the JD(S) in Chamundeshwari by a margin of 17,000 votes. He was leading by a slender margin of around 200 votes in Badami.
A BJP-led government in Karnataka would prove a major boost for PM Modi ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, silencing critics who said his popularity had faded over the rocky implementation of the Goods and Services Tax and the sudden ban on high-value notes in 2016.