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Key State Victory Boosts India’s Ruling Congress Party

  • Anjana Pasricha

School children arrive to watch the proceedings of Indian parliament in New Delhi, December 7, 2012.

School children arrive to watch the proceedings of Indian parliament in New Delhi, December 7, 2012.

India’s ruling Congress Party has won a key regional election, giving it a much needed boost as it prepares for national elections next year. An opposition onslaught on the ruling Congress-led government on corruption charges has led to parliament closing three days ahead of schedule.

The Congress Party’s convincing victory Sunday in Karnataka came as no surprise - the five-year rule of the ousted Bharatiya Janata Party had been marred by corruption scandals and accusations of poor governance.

A political analyst with the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, Manoj Joshi, says the BJP fell victim to the very issue that put the Congress-led federal government on the mat.

"The BJP government - while nationally they were attacking the Congress for corruption - found that in Karnataka, the boot was on the other foot," said Joshi.

The image of the BJP, the main opposition party in New Delhi, was tarnished in Karnataka by a $3-billion mining scam in which the state government was accused of allowing illegal iron mining.

Karnataka is home to India’s information technology hub, Bangalore, and the only southern state where the BJP was in power. Its defeat is seen as a significant setback in its bid to wrest control of the federal government in national elections next year.

BJP leaders admitted people were angered by poor governance.

"If you stop governing, people will vote you out. The reality is what you are seeing on the ground," said Jaswant Singh, a top opposition leader.

Brief reprieve

The victory gave a brief reprieve to the Congress-led government in New Delhi, which has faced massive opposition protests for a series of corruption scams - from awarding coal-field licenses to mobile-phone spectrum.

But that boost is likely to be short lived. The election also showed that there is deep public anger about graft and voters will demand accountability as India heads for national elections next year.

Corruption has been in the headlines for nearly four years now and the brunt of the charges have been borne by the ruling Congress party.

The latest corruption charges the government is battling involve two top ministers. A nephew of the railway minister, Pawan Kumar Bansal, has been accused of accepting a bribe from a railway official wanting a better post, while the law minister, Ashwani Kumar, is accused of interfering in a probe into the issue of coal licenses. The supreme court has censured the government for its interference.

Following the election result in Karnataka, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said corruption is a big issue for the country and needs to be addressed.

Congress party vulnerable

Political analyst Joshi says the Congress party continues to be extremely vulnerable, not only on charges of corruption, but also their apparent inability to address it.

"The Congress is stuck in a morass, generally. They are battling with this whole issue of two ministers… this seems to be the continuing story. They seem to lack decisiveness. It’s a sense of apathy.” said Joshi.

On Wednesday, parliament closed three days early, following chaotic scenes as opposition parties refused to let it function, demanding the resignation of two ministers.

That means two landmark bills that were to be passed this session will not become law. The government had proposed to provide heavily subsidized food to 75 percent of the people and to give fairer compensation to farmers for land acquired for industries.