Bumpy road for Congress, uphill task for BJP (News Analysis)

Bangalore, May 9 (IANS) Set to form a government on its own in Karnataka after nine years, the Congress faces a bumpy road. In contrast, the BJP, which lost power, has an uphill task of rebuilding the shattered morale of the organization.

The problem for the Congress is not the usual contentious issue of selecting a chief minister acceptable to various groups in the state unit.

It is ensuring the flock remains cohesive to enable the party to provide a stable and, more importantly, corruption-free and efficient governance, after years of instability and the scandal-ridden first three years of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rule.

The jubilation in the Congress over the massive defeat the BJP suffered Wednesday needs to be tempered as the party has a slender majority in the 225-member house.

The Congress won 121 seats against the 113 required for a majority in the assembly of 224 elected and one nominated members. On Sunday, voting took place for 223 seats as polling for one seat was cancelled after the BJP candidate died.

The party has been a divided house on caste-lines in the state. This will make not only the selection of the chief minister but the entire ministry formation an arduous task to prevent the divisions from deepening and, in the long run, resulting in dissidence.

Karnataka can have a ministry of 31 members including the chief minister.

The new government, especially the chief minister, will have only a few months to settle down and prove its worth before the party faces the Lok Sabha election.

The Congress performance in the general election will have a bearing on the stability of the chief minister and his government, if the party fails to improve on its 2009 tally of just six seats out of 28.

The need for the Congress to win more seats in the Lok Sabha from the state this time is all the more imperative to keep dissidence in check as the BJP may take time to emerge from the shock of its massive defeat in the assembly poll.

The BJP lost 70 of the 110 seats it won in 2008, when it formed its first government in the southern state.

Though the BJP was widely expected to lose power because of the split in the party and sex, corruption and illegal land deal scandals that marred the first three years of its rule under B.S. Yeddyurappa, the scale of the defeat has left the state unit’s morale in tatters.

The BJP has no mass leader in the state and can ill-afford to bring back Yeddyurappa into the party though he is largely credited with bringing the party to power in 2008.

He is fighting around a dozen cases of corruption and illegal land deal cases. Taking him back would virtually finish off the BJP campaign against corruption scandals of the Congress-led central government.

The outgoing chief minister Jagadish Shettar is not a mass leader but has a clean image while the state party chief Pralhad Joshi took over the post just ahead of the election.

Joshi, a Lok Sabha member, will take time to settle down in the post. The management of the Lok Sabha election in the state will prove his mettle.

The party’s state unit would also have to fend for itself for a long time as the focus of the central leadership would be the coming assembly polls and the Lok Sabha election.

It is bound to take a long time for the BJP to overcome the odds to make Karnataka once again its political gateway to southern India.

(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at vs.karnic@ians.in)

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