Singh Seeks Boost With Regional Poll Win Over Chief India Rival

India’s ruling Congress party aims to oust its chief rival in weekend elections in southern Karnataka state, a victory that may bolster the government as it bids to revive the economy ahead of a national poll.

Congress and the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party have deployed star campaigners Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi to the province seeking votes. An opinion poll for the CNN-IBN television channel forecast Congress may win as many as 129 seats in the 224-member assembly to the BJP’s 49. Voting is on May 5, with results due May 8.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Congress party are trying to build momentum ahead of national elections scheduled for May 2014 in the face of persistent corruption charges that have hobbled the government’s legislative agenda. For the BJP, losing power in Karnataka, which is home to offices of Intel Corp. (INTC) and General Electric Co., would frustrate the party’s bid to expand its support base beyond its stronghold in the north.

“For Congress, winning Karnataka is crucial as the party has had very little good news in recent times,” said Sandeep Shastri, pro-vice chancellor of Jain University in Bangalore, Karnataka’s capital. “Victory will be a huge morale booster.”

The BJP took control of Karnataka in 2008, claiming a breakthrough in extending its support nationwide.

The provincial government in 2011 became embroiled in a $3.6 billion illegal mining scam in which companies were accused by the state’s anti-corruption ombudsman of operating without permits and evading taxes. Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa was named in the probe and was forced to step down. He left the BJP to form his own party.

Lost Allies

The CNN-IBN opinion poll questioned 4,198 people across the state. It didn’t give a margin of error. A survey by Headlines Today and C-Voter last month predicted Congress would win 118 seats while the BJP was set to take 52.

Singh has lost two key allies since September -- Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and the Tamil Nadu-based Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam -- in a blow to Congress’ bid to win a third straight term in 2014.

Congress is set to benefit from the BJP’s failures, said N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman of the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies. “Congress is gaining an electoral advantage because of splits, infighting and corruption allegations against the BJP,” Rao said.

Congress Vice President Gandhi and Modi, the BJP chief minister of western Gujarat state, have addressed rallies in Karnataka, trading barbs about corruption. The two men are being promoted within their parties as candidates for prime minister.

Modi Win

Modi secured another five years of BJP rule in Gujarat in elections last year.

The Supreme Court criticized federal investigators on April 30 for allowing the government to vet the findings of a probe into alleged graft in the award of coal blocks, saying political interference had shaken “the very foundation of the investigating process.”

Singh’s government has been assailed by graft charges since the nation’s auditor in 2010 reported that an “arbitrary” sale of mobile-phone licenses may have cost the government $31 billion in revenue. Opposition protests over alleged corruption have paralyzed parliament for more than two years, delaying plans to lift some caps on foreign investment and overhaul rules on the acquisition of land for industry.

India’s economy rose 5 percent in the year ended March 2013, according to an estimate from the statistics agency. That’s less than the average of about 8 percent in the past decade.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at bpradhan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Hari Govind at hgovind@bloomberg.net

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