Can Congress overcome infighting to win Karnataka?

Last Updated 27 March 2013, 13:44 IST

Hopeful of a comeback in Karnataka, the Congress  has to overcome factionalism and select the right candidates if it has to  return to power in the state in May after seven years.

"Curbing infighting and selecting the right candidates would be crucial for  our victory," a senior Congress leader who did not wish to be named told  IANS.

Karnataka will vote for a 224 member house (one nominated Anglo-Indian  member makes it 225) on May 5. The result will be out May 8. A win in Karnataka could boost the Congress morale in southern India,  especially after the exit of the DMK from the Congress-led United  Progressive Alliance over the Sri Lankan issue.

The May 5 ballot is also significant as the Congress will be contesting a  big state after Rahul Gandhi became the party's vice president in January.

Earlier, Congress failed to retain power in 2004 assembly polls, won 64  seats and formed a coalition government with Janata Dal-Secular with N.  Dharam Singh as chief minister.

The coalition collapsed in 2006 as JD-S leader H. D. Kumaraswamy, son of  former prime minister and JD-S president H D Deve Gowda, tied up with BJP to  form a government. Kumaraswamy became the chief minister and BJP's B. S.  Yeddyurappa was his deputy.

The arrangement was Kumaraswamy will vacate his chair after 20 months paving  way for Yeddyurappa as chief minister for the remaining 20 months of the  assembly.
But Kumaraswamy did not keep his word and the BJP-JD-S coalition collapsed  forcing early assembly elections in 2008, instead of 2009.
The Congress, which has been out of power in Karnataka for seven years, lost  the state to the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2008 primarily due to infighting  and wrong selection of candidates, say party insiders.

The Congress contested 222 out of 224 seats in 2008, won 80 against 110  of  the BJP, which formed the government with the support of five independents. Later, some Congress legislators defected to the BJP, bringing down its  tally to 71.

The mood in the Congress camp in 2013 is upbeat after it left the ruling BJP  behind in the recent urban local body polls, where the party won three out  of seven major city corporations. These include Bellary, Mangalore and Davanagere. It was the single largest  party in Mysore and Gulbarga.

Realising that the stakes are high given a divided BJP, especially after the  exit of former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who is now with the  Karnataka Janata Party, the Congress is leaving nothing to chance.

Defence Minister and senior leader A.K. Antony has been made in charge of  the panel to ensure smooth coordination and monitor the election.
In New Delhi, initial consultations with state leaders, before the party's  central poll panel screens the list of probable candidates, have already  begun, said party sources.
The Central Election Committee is likely to meet March-end, and the final  list of candidates is expected in the first week of April.

"There is a huge rush of aspirants. The problem is more than two equally  capable candidates on many seats," said another leader.

The Congress is also grappling with over 20 rebels and BJP dissidents who  are in the queue to join the party.

According to Congress insiders, the task of selecting the right candidates  is challenging for the central leadership keeping in mind around a dozen  feedback dossiers for all the 224 constituencies now available with the  party.

Under instructions from Rahul Gandhi, the general secretary in charge of  Karnataka, Madhusudan Mistry, has obtained direct feedback from the district  unit chiefs for the first time.

In 2008, only the state unit chief took feedback from the district unit  chiefs.

In another first, the central observers, who toured all the 224  constituencies last month, have also submitted their reports to the party  leadership.

Besides, the Congress has done an internal survey on its prospects in  Karnataka, said party sources.

"Reconciling the various reports would be a challenge," said a Congress  leader.

(Published 27 March 2013, 10:56 IST)

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