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India's Congress party sweeps to victory in Karnataka state elections

Timely win for ruling party beleaguered by corruption allegations.

Congress party supporters celebrate outside a polling station after hearing their party had won the recent state elections in Bangalore.
Congress party supporters celebrate outside a polling station after hearing their party had won the recent state elections in Bangalore.

NEW DELHI // India's Congress party emphatically won state elections in Karnataka, buoying its mood in an otherwise grim week of scandal and struggle.

The results for the elections, which were held on Sunday, were declared yesterday. The Congress won 121 out of 223 seats in the Karnataka assembly, unseating its rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP garnered 40 seats.

The win for Congress could not have come at a better time. The BJP had attacked Congress this week in parliament, calling for three ministers to resign on charges of corruption and misuse of power. The Congress-led government has also failed, so far, to push through its signature food security bill.

In Karnataka, however, the BJP was the party ensnared in scandal. Since coming to power five years ago, the BJP has lost the services of three chief ministers. The first, BS Yeddyurappa, was forced out of office on charges of aiding illegitimate land and mining deals, and then joined a rival party. The second lasted less than a year before being replaced by the BJP leadership.

Rajiv Pratap Rudy, a BJP spokesman, said after yesterday's loss that it was "time for introspection".

Another BJP leader, Ravi Shankar Prasad, said: "Certain issues are non-negotiable, and corruption is one such issue."

Rajeev Gowda, a spokesman for the Congress in Karnataka, said yesterday the win represented "a verdict against the extraordinary corruption of the BJP".

The win gave Congress a confidence boost for the general elections next year, Mr Gowda said.

"For a key state like Karnataka, winning here is a very good signal," he said. "This shows that the Congress is a party of the people first. The party can provide good governance."

But Mr Prasad, of the BJP, pointed out that, since 1989, the party that had won Karnataka had lost the elections to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament.

"So I am sure we will win the Lok Sabha" next year, Mr Prasad said.

Analysts warned against reading too much into the Karnataka elections, and said the result was a reflection of the BJP in disarray rather than a strong Congress.

"It's true that the Congress was more organised this time on the ground," said Aruna Urs, a Bengaluru-based political analyst.

"But there was also a huge anti-incumbency wave against the BJP. The last five years were just a mess," he said. "No party had been quite so open in its corruption. It was ugly."

Mr Urs said that he would hesitate to extrapolate trends for the general elections from the results.

"That would be a mistake. People are always smart. They know which election they are voting in, and they are aware of the issues," said Mr Urs.

"So the same people who voted for the Congress in Karnataka, to unseat the BJP, may well vote against the Congress in the general elections, to unseat the Congress's central government."



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