Posted by: John Elliott | May 15, 2018

BJP wins first stage of battle with Congress-led coalition after Karnataka assembly polls

BJP chief minister sworn in to form new government

Allegations of BJP offering Rs1bn bribes to MLAs to switch sides

MAY 17 – The BJP’s B.S. Yeddyurappa was sworn-in as the new chief minister of Karnataka by the state’s BJP-linked governor this morning, even though a potential Congress-JDS combine has more seats – the BJP has 104 seats and Congress-JDS 114.

The governor gave Yeddyurappa 15 days to get together enough supporters to prove a majority in the state assembly, but the chief minister said he would “seek vote of confidence at the earliest”  

The Congress-JDS appealed against the swearing-in at a rare emergency session of the supreme court at 2am this morning, arguing it would go against precedents set by the BJP in other states (see below).

The court refused at the end of a three-and-a-half hour hearing to stop the swearing-in, but said it will continue hearing the case tomorrow (May 18) morning and that the swearing-in was conditional on its final judgement.

The BJP’s move in Karnataka shows that it changes its tune from case to case in Modi’s determination to build regional strength before the general election due within 12 months.

Congress-JDS leaders are alleging that massive bribes of Rs10 crore (Rs100m/$1.5m) are being offered to their MLAs to move across to the BJP – as forecast below. 


MAY 15: Massive bribes are likely to be on offer in the Indian high tech state of Karnataka, where Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party wants to form a government following assembly polls last weekend. Earlier today, it thought it was winning outright but its celebrations were dramatically interrupted by the Congress and a state-level party linking up to try to keep it out of power. 

The BJP could still form the Karnataka government because it has the substantial finances needed to win members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) over from the rival parties – money and promises of lucrative government posts are irresistible for many regional politicians all over India.


The results – NDTV graphic with vote changes since the 2014 general election in the column on the right

BJP celebrations began this morning when results and forecasts from counting centres suggested it had a near-majority of 110 in the 222-seat assembly, but that figure fell away to 104 within a few hours. The Congress Party, which ruled with 122 seats in the outgoing government, rose from 70 to 78, while the state-level Janata Dal Secular (JDS), led by H.D. Deve Gowda, a prime minister in the mid-1990s, achieved 38.

The Congress and JDS unexpectedly then joined up to form a potential coalition, with Congress offering the chief minister’s post to Gowda’s son, H. D. Kumarasawamy.

This indicated a new willingness by the Congress to link with other parties and, if necessary, let them take the lead. It also showed the way that regional parties are preparing to come together to fight the BJP in the general election that is due by this time next year

Together Congress and the JDS have a total of 114 seats, which is more than the BJP’s 104, and the two parties’ leaders rushed to lodge claims to form the government with the state’s governor, Vajubhai Vala, a BJP appointee who vacated his Gujarat parliamentary seat for Narendra Modi in 2001. The BJP sent a similar delegation headed by B.S.Yeddyurappa, a former chief minister. He later said that the governor had given the BJP about a week to prove a majority on the floor of the assembly, though this was not officially confirmed.

There will now almost certainly be a bidding war, which could lead to a holiday for MLAs who, as often happens in state polls, may be virtually locked up in comfortable holiday locations (see below) without mobile and internet connections to keep them away from rival parties.

IMG_0319 copy

A tweet from Kerala Tourism jokingly advertising the state as a location for MLA lock-ups!

The governor’s apparent decision to invite the BJP, as the largest single party, and not the Congress-JDS, to have the first stab at forming a coalition was highly controversial.

The Congress-JDS claimed they should be invited first, citing the precedent of what has happened when the BJP has run roughshod in the past 14 months over Congress majorities in the states of Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya to impose its rule with the help of subservient governors.

Modi wants to secure Karnataka to keep his momentum going in the run-up to the  general election. If the BJP wins, it will be ruling in 23 states, leaving Congress with just three – Punjab, Mizoram and Puducherry

There was a high 72% voter turnout with Congress winning 37.9%, the BJP 36.2% and the JDS 18.4%. The Congress was widely expected to do badly because of considerable unhappiness about its record in power with extensive corruption and poor performance.  

BJP mining corruption

The BJP fielded candidates linked to the corruption-hit mining industry that led to a scandal when the party was last in government, centred on the Reddy brothers, one of whom was a BJP minister. Modi, who frequently claims that he is stamping out corruption, even seemed to exonerate those involved in the scandal by criticising Congress for projecting the region “as inhabited by robbers and thieves”.

Both Modi – and Rahul Gandhi who is trying to establish himself as a vote winner for the party of which he is now the dynastic head – campaigned extensively. Figures calculated by television channels suggest that Modi had a better strike rate in terms of votes than Gandhi, and that Modi’s electioneering combined with that Amit Shah, the BJP president, and Yogi Adityanath, the controversial Hindu priest-turned politician who is chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, won widespread support, especially among young voters.

Yesterday Modi made what might be the last ministerial changes before the polls. Piyush Goyal, the minister for railways (and previously power), has been given temporary additional charge of the finance ministry while Arun Jaitley, the finance minister since 2014, recovers from a kidney transplant operation. In another move, Smriti Irani, an accident-prone former model and film actress, lost her job as information and broadcasting minister after a series of gaffes – in 2016, she similarly lost the key human resources ministry.

The Karnataka vote shows that Modi still has pulling power with voters who want a change from their current governments. He has sometimes not done so well in other state polls where the BJP is currently in power – for example in Gujarat last December where the BJP won the assembly election but with fewer seats, and in Uttar Pradesh by-elections where it lost seats. But he still has the power to win, which will be tested nationally in a year’s time.


  1. It is said that wherever Raoul Gandhi canvassed for votes during the run-up to the Karnataka Election he did more damage than good for Congress. It is good to know that Raoul Gandhi is the best weapon BJP have in their armoury for winning elections.

  2. There should be reelection to avoid bribing

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