How Congress, BJP have fought for supremacy in Assembly, Lok Sabha polls in Karnataka

Over the last 25 years, Congress and BJP have battled for supremacy in LS polls in Karnataka, but their fortunes have shifted dramatically, with the former struggling to retain its grip

BJP, Karnataka polls, coastal Karnataka, Hindutva
Congress has struggled to replicate the success achieved during the tenure of former Chief Minister SM Krishna. In contrast, the BJP has shown consistent growth in the state. File photo

The performance of the Congress party in Karnataka during Lok Sabha elections since 1999 has varied due to factors such as political alliances, local issues, leadership dynamics, and broader national trends. Over the past 25 years, the party has struggled to replicate the success achieved during the tenure of former Chief Minister SM Krishna. In contrast, the BJP has demonstrated consistent and rapid growth in the state, surpassing its achievements in Lok Sabha election campaigns.

From 1999 to 2004, Congress enjoyed a strong position in Karnataka. However, internal strife and failure to address voter concerns led to a steady decline. The period from 2004 to 2014 saw occasional minor recoveries, but the emergence of strong BJP leadership and effective campaigning further eroded the party’s base. In 2019, Congress suffered its worst defeat, which marked a steep fall from its former glory.

The BJP has also made strategic gains in Karnataka through the decades. From a rising force in 1999, the party steadily increased its influence, benefiting from strong leadership and an effective organisational structure. The 2014, 2019, and 2024 Lok Sabha elections marked the peak of BJP’s success in the state, with the party benefiting significantly from the national wave and the leadership of B. S. Yediyurappa, Lal Krishna Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Narendra Modi.

Interestingly, in 2019, Congress, in alliance with the JD(S), secured only 2 seats (1 seat each for both parties). In the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP and JD(S) alliance won 19 seats (17 and 2 seats, respectively). In 1999, the Congress won 18 out of 28 Lok Sabha constituencies, marking their first and last major victory in the LS polls in Karnataka. Since then, the Congress has not been able to achieve double digits until the 2024 elections. In 1999, Congress benefited from the split in the Janata Dal (Secular) and Janata Dal (United), which divided the anti-Congress vote. The leadership of S. M. Krishna, who was the CM at the time, also played a crucial role in this success.

SM Krishna tenure

After SM Krishna’s tenure, Karnataka Congress leaders did not prioritize LS elections, focusing mainly on Assembly elections. However, the scenario changed when there was a perception that Congress couldn’t defeat the BJP at the national and state levels. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee chief DK Shivakumar, despite their differences, fought together in the 2023 Assembly elections to achieve a majority and form the government. Although Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar had opportunities to win more seats, they could not replicate SM Krishna’s success. Consequently, Congress could not reach double digits in subsequent LS polls.

Over the past 25 years, Karnataka’s political landscape has witnessed dramatic shifts. While the Congress has experienced a steady decline, the BJP has emerged as a powerful contender. In the 1999 LS elections, the Congress party showcased its stronghold in Karnataka, winning 18 out of 28 seats. This period marked a peak for the Congress, which was seen as the primary political force in the state. The BJP, although growing in influence, managed to secure only seven seats, which showed that it was emerging but still with a limited reach.

The 2004 LS elections were a turning point for the Congress in Karnataka. The party’s seat count dropped dramatically to just 8. Internal conflicts, leadership issues, and a failure to address local concerns contributed to this decline. Meanwhile, the BJP made significant gains, winning 18 seats and marking its rise as a formidable opponent.

The 2009 LS elections saw Congress attempting a comeback, albeit with limited success, securing 6 seats. The BJP continued to build on its previous success, winning 19 seats. There was a shift in the state’s politics, with the BJP solidifying its presence and Congress struggling to maintain its relevance.

Riding on the Narendra Modi wave, the BJP achieved a landslide victory in the 2014 LS elections, winning 17 seats. The performance of Congress declined further, with the party securing only 9 seats. The election underscored the BJP’s growing influence and the waning appeal of Congress among Karnataka’s electorate.

The 2019 LS elections were a low point for Congress in Karnataka. The party managed to win only one seat, reflecting its worst performance in two decades. In stark contrast, the BJP swept the state with 25 seats, showcasing its dominance and the electorate’s overwhelming support.

As Karnataka headed into the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, Congress struggled to regain its lost ground, focusing on regional issues and countering the Modi government effectively. However, it could not surpass its previous performance, and managed to get only nine seats. The BJP, on the other hand, aimed to maintain its stronghold by continuing its focus on national and Hindutva issues, winning 17 seats by itself and 19 seats in total in alliance with the JD(S).

Congress was in power five times

Over the last two and a half decades, Congress has held power in Karnataka five times, while the BJP has held power once, spanning six Lok Sabha elections. Apart from the tenure of S. M. Krishna, Congress secured fewer seats, whereas the BJP maintained a steady trajectory, achieving notable success in the 2014 elections with 25 seats.

Congress was in power during the 1999 elections under SM Krishna’s government, achieving good numbers. In the 2004 elections, Congress, in power with its coalition partner JD(S), won only 8 seats, while the BJP attained 18. In 2009, when Yediyurappa led the BJP, Congress got only 6 seats, and BJP won 19. In 2014, with Congress in power under CM Siddaramaiah, it again achieved 9 seats, and the BJP won 17 Lok Sabha seats.

In 2019, the JD(S)-Congress coalition government was led by CM HD Kumaraswamy. They fought together but achieved only two seats, while the BJP secured a record 25 seats in the state. In 2024, with Congress in power again, the BJP continued its double-digit victories, achieving 19 wins along with its alliance JD(S).

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