- "We have accepted defeat," Congress leader DK Shivakumar
- Congress began poorly from the get-go, stayed ahead in only two seats
- Bypolls were for 15 of 17 assembly seats left vacant by MLAs
The Congress emerged as the biggest loser in Karnataka as votes cast in bypolls were counted on Monday. The party is set to lose nine seats, with the BJP making huge gains at its cost and heading for a sweep.
"We have accepted defeat, people have accepted defectors," Congress leader DK Shivakumar said as the party began poorly from the get-go and stayed ahead in only two seats, compared to the BJP's 12.
Bypolls were held for 15 of 17 assembly seats left vacant by MLAs who resigned in July, causing the collapse of the Congress-Janata Dal Secular (JDS) coalition and the BJP's takeover.
"We have to agree with the mandate of these 15 constituencies. I can see that people have accepted defectors, the ruling party will have an edge, but ultimately we have accepted defeat," said Mr Shivakumar, Congress's chief troubleshooter in Karnataka and its resident in-charge of rallying rebels.
"We don't have to be disheartened. By-elections are different, general elections are different. Results are results, I won't differ. But I am confident. Congress has a strong hold. It won't vanish. No one can end Congress," said Mr Shivakumar.
Comparing politics to "agriculture", he said it needs planning, preparation. "We have to realise our mistakes and rectify them," the former minister admitted. He refused to comment when asked whether the leadership in the state or the centre had failed the party.
"I know the pulse of people of Karnataka. We have seen elections. Any time people change. This is how we make political arithmetic. The ruling government has an edge, I will not deny that. But defections are not a one-way thing. People can move from that party as well. Anything can happen," he said optimistically.
The BJP is expected to easily win; it needs at least seven seats to claim a majority in the assembly, which will have 222 members after the bypolls. Two seats are still vacant. The BJP currently has 105 MLAs and the support of one independent candidate, while the Congress has 66 and the JDS 34.
The Congress had said the BJP would pay the price for supporting MLAs who quit their coalition earlier this year in hugely controversial circumstances.
More recently, it had even said openly that it was ready for a coalition with the Janata Dal Secular again if the BJP didn't get a majority. The two parties contested separately after their alliance government crashed.
After a dramatic stand-off that included a showdown at a Mumbai hotel, the MLAs who quit were disqualified by then-Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar and barred from elections till 2023. The Supreme Court confirmed the disqualification but allowed the rebels to contest.
The Congress's campaign slogan - Defeat The Disqualified - reflected that sentiment. The BJP fielded 13 of the MLAs who quit, with the Chief Minister describing them as "future ministers".