Bangalore: The Congress on Wednesday won a thumping victory in Karnataka to wrest power after a seven year gap, crushing the BJP in a key election ahead of next year's Lok Sabha ballot.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi voiced their satisfaction over the Karnataka result that ended five years of tumultuous rule by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the southern state.
Congress activists celebrated wildly all across Karnataka as a vote count that began at 8 a.m. showed that the party was set to finish with some 120 seats in the 225-member assembly -- seven more than the half-way mark.
The Congress victory "is a clear result against the ideology of the BJP", Manmohan Singh said in New Delhi.
"The people of the country know what's what and they will reject the BJP ideology as the result in Karnataka shows."
The BJP, which stormed to power in Karnataka in 2008 with the hope of expanding rapidly in south India, was routed. Officials said it may finish along with the Janata Dal-Secular (J-S) at 39 seats each.
At one point, the BJP trailed behind the JD-S at the third spot.
The Congress had ruled Karnataka on its own until April 2004. It later governed the state with JD-S backing till February 2006. The state slipped into JD-S and BJP hands after that.
Even as speculation mounted within the Congress on who could lead the Karnataka government, the BJP admitted defeat.
Former BJP chief minister Sadananda Gowda said: "We failed to rise to the occasion. We could not reach out to the voter with the development work we did in Karnataka."
BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy was more forthright: "We have lost badly... There are many reasons for it. We will have to introspect."
Congress leaders gloated and said they had expected a victory because of the way the BJP ruled Karnataka in the last five years, with infighting seeing three changes in the chief minister's post.
The BJP government was also mired in corruption charges.
Finally, B.S. Yeddyurappa, who led the BJP to victory in 2008 and become its first chief minister, quit the party and formed the rival Karnataka Janata Party (KJP).
Although the KJP is expected to bag only eight seats in a house of 225, it played a major role in splitting the pro-BJP vote.
JD-S leader H.D. Kumaraswamy, who had hoped perhaps to be kingmaker, said he was happy to win almost 40 seats.
"We will be happy to be the main opposition. We will play our role well," the former chief minister said.
The Samajwadi Party opened its account for the first time in Karnataka, winning the Channapatna assembly seat some 60 km from Bangalore.
The Karnataka result was a morale booster for the Congress at a time the BJP has refused to let parliament run demanding the resignation of central ministers Ashwani Kumar and Pawan Kumar Bansal for impropriety.
The victory was just what the party needed ahead of the general elections due in 2014 but which some say could be held earlier.
Said Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi: "We are winning because people have seen through and rejected the BJP."
The Karnataka rout saw several BJP leaders lose, as the party fared poorly both in urban and rural areas all across the state.
The assembly has 224 elected and one nominated members. The election took place Sunday for 223 seats. Polling was cancelled in one place as the BJP candidate died.