Bangalore: The Congress Wednesday comfortably returned to power in Karnataka after seven years, crushing the BJP in an election that grabbed national attention as it was fought over the corruption issue.
The Congress was set to win 121 seats in the 225-member assembly, official results and trends said. Congress leaders said the result was bound to boost its morale ahead of more assembly polls due this year besides the Lok Sabha battle next year.
The Congress had bagged 113 seats to score a majority in the house, and led in eight seats at 1800 hours, election officials said.
Speculation mounted within the Congress on who could lead the new Karnataka government.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was routed as it lost 70 of the 110 seats it won in 2008 to form a government for the first time in any state in southern India.
The BJP has won 34 seats and was ahead of others in six more.
The drubbing left the BJP's state and central leaders shell-shocked as they believed that the party's image, battered by corruption scandals and infighting, had improved in the last six months under its third chief minister in four years, Jagadish Shettar.
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 forthright: "We have lost badly... There are many reasons for it. We will have to introspect."
There was humiliation in store as around 20 ministers lost the Sunday election, including deputy chief minister and former state BJP chief K.S. Eshwarappa.
The BJP fared poorly both in urban and rural areas across the state.
The other major contender, Janata Dal-Secular, was also set to win 40 seats. It had won 37 and ahead in three.
More than the Congress onslaught, the BJP seems to have suffered heavily due to the split after its first chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, quit in December to head the Karnataka Janata Party (KJP).
While the KJP might win only six seats, it has achieved what Yeddyurappa set out to - defeat BJP in Karnataka.
The Congress victory was tempered with the biggest loss the party suffered in the defeat of its state chief G. Parameshwara in Koratagere (reserved for Scheduled Castes) in Tumkur district.
Parameshwara was a chief ministerial aspirant.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi voiced their satisfaction over the Karnataka result that ended five years of tumultuous BJP rule in the southern state.
Congress activists celebrated wildly across Karnataka.
The Congress victory "is a clear result against the ideology of the BJP", Manmohan Singh said in 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 had stormed to power in Karnataka in 2008 with the hope of expanding rapidly in south India. It had termed Karnataka as its "gateway to south India".
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.
JD-S leader H.D. Kumaraswamy, who had hoped perhaps to be kingmaker, said: "We will be happy to be the main opposition. We will play our role well."
The Samajwadi Party opened its account for the first time in Karnataka, winning from Channapatna, some 60 km from Bangalore.
The Karnataka result came at a time for the Congress when the BJP has refused to let parliament run, demanding the resignation of central ministers Ashwani Kumar and Pawan Kumar Bansal for impropriety.
Said Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi: "People have seen through and rejected the BJP."