Karnataka win a rare boost for battered Congress

NEW DELHI Wed May 8, 2013 10:58pm IST

Supporters of Congress wave party flags at an election rally in Bangalore May 7, 2008. REUTERS/Arko Datta/Files

Supporters of Congress wave party flags at an election rally in Bangalore May 7, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Arko Datta/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The Congress was set for a resounding election victory in Karnataka on Wednesday, early results showed, a rare win the party hopes will put the wind in its sails ahead of general elections.

Election commission results showed the centre-left Congress has won in 121 of 223 seats after Sunday's vote, ousting the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after five years of rule marred by scandal.

Final results were due later on Wednesday.

The win is a bright spot for Congress, which itself is on the back foot at the national level over a series of scandals.

In one of the biggest cases, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is investigating how the government awarded coal field concessions to private and state companies. Opposition parties say the process was corrupt.

"So many scams, so many scandals, this will be a bit of a booster dose," said Vinod Sharma, a Congress party expert and a political editor at the Hindustan Times newspaper.

Congress is expected to do less well in at least four other state elections scheduled for this year. General elections are due to be held by May 2014.

Uproar at the coal scandal and another involving a relative of the railway minister obstructed parliament for two weeks, and on Wednesday the speaker cut the current parliament session short by three days.

The mayhem in Lok Sabha meant the Congress was unable to pass its signature food security bill, which is seen as crucial to the party's hopes of re-election.

The election in Karnataka was widely seen as a barometer for voter anger at crony capitalism that has plagued India's economic boom in the past decade.

The BJP's image in the state was tarnished by a $3 billion illegal mining scandal that ended India's reign as the world's third-largest iron-ore exporter. The infighting that ensued toppled two chief ministers in five years.

"Karnataka is a gift from the BJP," a top leader of the BJP in New Delhi said. He acknowledged that corruption in the state had got out of hand.

But the victory could be a double-edged sword for Congress.

The sign from Karnataka was that voters will punish politicians for perceived plunder. At the national level, the Congress-led coalition has found itself caught up in a raft of scandals over the allocation of resources, from coal to mobile telephone spectrum, and the award of military contracts.

(Additional reporting by Satarupa Bhattacharjya; Editing by Ross Colvin and Nick Macfie)

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