India’s ruling Congress party is on course to winning power in the southern state of Karnataka in a rare piece of good news for the party as the government battles corruption allegations that have paralyzed parliament.
Congress is leading in 111 seats in the 224-member assembly, with leads or results in 99 percent of constituencies, according to the television channel CNN-IBN. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition party, which has governed Karnataka for the last five years, was winning in 38, the television channel said.
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 graft charges that have hobbled the government’s legislative agenda. The BJP and other political parties are demanding the resignation of the prime minister and the law minister over alleged interference in a probe into the allocation of coal blocks. India’s top court will hold a hearing on the case today.
“This is a good result for Congress, it will lift their morale, and it is a sign that they are not withering away,” said Satish Misra, an analyst at the Observer Research Foundation, a policy group based in New Delhi. “But Congress won this election by default because of the BJP’s problems in the state.”
For the BJP, losing power in Karnataka, home to the Indian offices of Intel Corp. (INTC) and General Electric Co., would frustrate the party’s bid to expand its base beyond its stronghold in the north. Karnataka is the first state in southern India the party has ruled without a coalition partner.
Rather than acting as a catalyst for gaining broader electoral support, the provincial government in 2011 became embroiled in a $3.6 billion illegal mining scam where 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 forced to step down.
Those revelations blunted the BJP’s campaign to target Congress over corruption.
With the BJP disrupting parliament to demand the resignations of both Singh and Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, legislation to extend a subsidized food program and change laws on land purchases for industry have yet to be debated. Congress wants to pass both as it chases the votes of poor Indians ahead of next year’s national election.
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and Narendra 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.
A loss today for the BJP would mean that the party now rules six of India’s 28 states either outright or in an alliance. If Congress wins, Singh’s party will govern alone in 14 states.
Any celebrations for Congress may be tempered by the top court hearing today. The Supreme Court is expected to discuss why the country’s top anti-corruption agency allowed the government to vet findings of a probe into alleged corruption. Singh was in charge of the coal ministry at the time many of the mining permits were awarded.
The Central Bureau of Investigation, which is probing allegations of graft in the award of mining rights, told the Supreme Court last month the status of the investigation was shared with the federal law minister and two officials of the prime minister’s office and coal ministry.
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