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India's opposition Congress defeats ruling BJP in key southern state

Congress leaders and workers celebrate at the party office as the party leads in early trends on the vote counting day of Karnataka Assembly polls, in Bengaluru, May 13, 2023. (Photo by PTI)

India’s main opposition Congress has swept past Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Saturday's vote in the southern state of Karnataka.

As votes were counted on Saturday, it became evident that Congress had managed an overwhelming majority in the state, defeating the formidable BJP despite Modi campaigning personally.

“People have rejected divisive politics,” said Pawan Khera, a Congress party spokesperson.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai from the BJP conceded defeat after the party lost its only governing state in southern India which has traditionally been the stronghold of Congress and leftists. 

“Despite best efforts by PM, and cadres, we were not up to mark,” Bommai said in a statement.

Congress members and supporters gathered outside the party headquarters in Bangalore and New Delhi, chanting slogans of victory, and waving party flags.

After four hours of counting votes, Congress’s seat tally stood at 136, the BJP at 64 and the Janata Dal (Secular) (JDS) at 20, out of the total 224 seats with 113 seats needed to form a majority.

The poll results come in as being the first out of five upcoming state polls this year that are said to define the fate of the parliamentary elections due next year in April and May.

"The BJP will lose the assembly elections later this year in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Chhattisgarh. Modi would lose next year's general election too," Congress spokesperson Akhilesh Pratap Singh said as quoted in wire reports.

Leaders of India’s main political parties had been campaigning extensively as they organized dozens of rallies, road shows within a span of 10 days, ahead of the voting day on Wednesday.

During the campaigning, Congress promised to ban the Bajrang Dal, a hardline Hindu militant organization, which has been involved in numerous cases of anti-Muslim hate attacks.

“The most important thing is that the politics that attempts to divert people's attention and doesn't speak of public issues will not work anymore in this country. We saw this in Himachal and Karnataka. People want discussion on their issues and a solution to the same," said Priyanka Gandhi, the sister of Congress leader and the main party face Rahul Gandhi.

Back in March, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was convicted of defamation which led him to lose his parliamentary seat after he was accused of insulting Modi and other people surnamed Modi, making Congress’s win even more significant.

According to analysts, Karnataka’s election result points to a clear desire for change among people.

The BJP has been continuously blamed for promoting “politics of hate” by critics, as the party is known for its anti-minority, anti-Muslim sentiments, and for its pro-Hindutva stance.

In several instances, BJP leaders have been spotted making hate speeches on stages against Muslims, and even issuing genocide calls to Hindus against Muslims.

Meanwhile, PM Modi congratulated Congress on the victory.

“Congratulations to the Congress Party for their victory in the Karnataka Assembly polls. My best wishes to them in fulfilling people’s aspirations," he wrote.

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