The Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won state elections in Karnataka, extending a victorious streak ahead of a national vote due by 2009. The BJP victory surprised many pollsters and analysts and dealt another blow to the centre-left Congress party, which leads the ruling coalition government in New Delhi.
Bangalore is suffering from infrastructure problems
The Bharatiya Janata Party won 110 of 224 seats -- its first outright win in one of India's four southern states that caps a string of recent wins in regional elections.
In the process, the BJP dealt a major blow to the Congress Party, which also suffered huge defeats in all three national parliament or Lok Sabha by-elections for which results were declared Sunday. The BJP's prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani promptly claimed that 2008 would prove to be a year of political change for India. A national parliamentary election is due next year.
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. The BJP fought the contest on a three-point agenda: 'betrayal, inflation, terrorism'. It went hammer and tongs against the Congress for failing to check soaring food prices - and the idea clicked.
The party’s general secretary Arun Jaitley who has been described as the architect behind the victory says: "A large part of our campaign was against the central government. One part of our campaign was against the politics of opportunism where the losers of the last elections, the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) tried to form the government."
The Congress, which conceded defeat said the result would not impact national politics. The party’s general secretary, Kapil Sibal says it started off at a disadvantage. "We must congratulate them for their victory. But I don’t think they can claim that this is a vote against the central government. Let me give you one factor which was really in their favour and that was when we went into the campaign we could not say anything against the BJP because they have never ruled that state, so we can’t talk of their administration. They had a 10 day rule in which the government collapsed and they got some sympathy out of it. They really took advantage of that fact whereas we had to be on the defensive."
A win in Karnataka -- a state of 60 million people and home to India's "Silicon Valley" of Bangalore –- is expected to further boost the BJP's national profile. It now rules seven of the country’s 29 states and is part of ruling coalitions in five others.
Sonia Gandhi's Congress party, which heads the national government in New Delhi, is currently facing a backlash over surging prices. The Congress will have to do serious stock taking ahead of state elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Delhi later this year and the general elections scheduled for May next year if it wants to stop the BJP’s triumphant series of victories.
Challenges ahead for the new government
As it looks to forming the next government in Karnataka, the BJP will have to quickly unclog India’s tech hub by building better roads and rail networks and then convince potential investors to look beyond the city of Bangalore in terms of setting up offices and factories.
The state capital Bangalore houses Indian IT giants Infosys and Wipro and local arms of multinationals such as IBM. It has been thriving on outsourcing of software services from local and international firms, which has seen higher economic growth than the national average of 8 per cent in the last few years.