The confidence of a potential winner is lacking in the Congress, with its leaders talking not about gaining a majority but of emerging as the single largest party in next month's assembly elections in Karnataka. But after what happened in Meghalaya, there are apprehensions that even the status of the single largest party may not necessarily spell power.
The Congress sees its main enemy in the BJP that is striving to get power in the state and use it as a gateway to the South. HD Deve Gowda's JD(S) is considered a distant third in an election whose outcome is expected to set the tone for the year-end assembly polls in states like MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Delhi and J&K and the Lok Sabha polls thereafter.
With just a three per cent vote difference last time, the BJP's challenge now threatens to turn real. The Congress had won 64 seats then, the BJP 79 and the JD(S) 59.
To cut the party’s losses, some Congress leaders want at least 30 per cent of the sitting MLAs changed. The fear of a backlash may have forced the party to hold back its hand in this regard in Gujarat and other states where polls were held recently. But now many believe that Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi's recent five-day trip to the state may help the party check any sabotage.
Infighting and factionalism remain irritants though Krishna maintains these will not be a problem. “All these evaporate with the announcement of the elections,”' said the man whose own re-entry into Karnataka politics has reportedly upset some of his colleagues.
The Congress is banking on the UPA's achievements, the erosion of any sympathy factor for the BJP and the impact of the social coalition it has been trying to nurture through PCC chief Mallikarjun Kharge (a Dalit), Siddaramaiah (OBC), Krishna (a Vokkaligga expected to challenge Deve Gowda's hold over the community), CK Jaffer Sharief (a Muslim) and MP Prakash and Rajashekharan (Lingayats). While Krishna's influence spans 96 assembly seats in South Karnataka and the urban population, Kharge and Siddaramaiah have an influence across the entire state.