Congress set to form government in south Indian state

BANGALORE, India (AFP) - India's Congress looked set on Wednesday to form the government in the important southern state of Karnataka, raising the morale of the beleaguered national ruling party ahead of the 2014 elections.

Final results were yet to be announced but early election returns showed Congress set to win back power from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state.

By mid-afternoon, Congress was strongly ahead with 120 seats while the Hindu nationalist BJP had just 39.

The BJP, the ruling party in Karnataka, paid the price for a multi-billion iron-ore mining scandal as well as infighting among its political leaders, analysts said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose national government is also embroiled in a string of corruption scandals, called the Congress victory "a clear result against the ideology of the BJP".

"The people of the country know what's what and they will reject the BJP ideology (nationally) as the result in Karnataka shows," the prime minister said on Twitter.

Last November, BJP suffered a major setback in the state when an anti-corruption watchdog accused some state leaders of playing a central role in the iron-ore mining scandal.

The scam is believed to have cost public coffers US$3.6 billion (S$4.4 billion) and led to the resignation of state chief minister BS Yeddyurappa.

Dr Singh's government has been beset by problems of its own, most recently by charges that its law minister interfered in a criminal probe into the alleged illegal awarding of coalfields at throwaway prices.

The arrest of the railway minister's nephew, who allegedly demanded a US$160,000 bribe to arrange a plum promotion for a railway official, has also embarrassed the government.

The win in Karnataka, home to the country's software industry, has come as a shot in the arm for Congress before national elections in May next year.

But political analysts said the victory was not especially significant because lack of political alternatives meant that the party was bound to win.

"We should not draw the conclusion that there is a wave in favour of Congress," said Dr Sanjay Kumar, with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.