India's Congress party leading in key state poll

  • Article by: ASHOK SHARMA
  • Associated Press
  • May 8, 2013 - 5:57 AM

NEW DELHI - India's ruling Congress party, which has been battered by corruption scandals, appeared headed for a much-needed victory Wednesday in elections in a key southern state.

The party appears likely to wrest power from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in Karnataka. The voting was being watched as a possible bellwether for next year's national elections.

The election commission said the Congress party had won or was leading in 122 of the state's 224 constituencies as of Wednesday afternoon. The BJP had won or was leading in only 39 constituencies, with the rest going to other parties.

Salman Khurshid, a top Congress leader and India's external affairs minister, said the outcome "has given us a great shot in the arm."

Karnataka's capital, Bangalore, is the country's information technology hub.

Chandan Mitra, a BJP lawmaker, said Karnataka voters punished his party for its poor governance in the state. However, he warned Congress that it would badly lose next year's elections because `'it is sitting on a corruption keg."

Several top Congress officials are facing corruption allegations stemming from scandals over the hosting of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the irregular sale of cellphone spectrums and the allocation of coal fields that auditors said cost the country billions of dollars.

But the BJP in Karnataka had scandals of its own.

Though the party came to power in the state for the first time only five years ago, its lawmakers quickly became embroiled in a multibillion-dollar scam involving the granting of illegal mining contracts. The lawmakers, along with hundreds of government officials, are being prosecuted on bribery charges.

The defeat of the BJP in Karnataka deprived India's main opposition party of its only stronghold in southern India, but analysts warned that Congress's victory was based not on the ruling party's strength, but on the weakness of the opposition.

"The Congress party benefited through default," said Vinod Mehta, a political analyst.

The BJP's vote share also was dented by a split in the state party, said Rajiv Pratap Rudy, a BJP spokesman.

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