New Delhi: Hopeful of a comeback in Karnataka, the Congress has to overcome factionalism and select the right candidates if it has to return to power in the state in May after seven years.
"Curbing infighting and selecting the right candidates would be crucial for our victory," a senior Congress leader who did not wish to be named said.
Karnataka will vote for a 224 member house (one nominated Anglo-Indian member makes it 225) on May 5. The result will be out May 8. A win in Karnataka could boost the Congress morale in southern India, especially after the exit of the DMK from the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance over the Sri Lankan issue.
The May 5 ballot is also significant as the Congress will be contesting a big state after Rahul Gandhi became the party's vice president in January.
Earlier, Congress failed to retain power in 2004 assembly polls, won 64 seats and formed a coalition government with Janata Dal-Secular with N. Dharam Singh as chief minister.
The coalition collapsed in 2006 as JD-S leader H. D. Kumaraswamy, son of former prime minister and JD-S president H D Deve Gowda, tied up with BJP to form a government. Kumaraswamy became the chief minister and BJP's B. S. Yeddyurappa was his deputy.
The arrangement was Kumaraswamy will vacate his chair after 20 months paving way for Yeddyurappa as chief minister for the remaining 20 months of the assembly.
But Kumaraswamy did not keep his word and the BJP-JD-S coalition collapsed forcing early assembly elections in 2008, instead of 2009.
The Congress, which has been out of power in Karnataka for seven years, lost the state to the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2008 primarily due to infighting and wrong selection of candidates, say party insiders.
The Congress contested 222 out of 224 seats in 2008, won 80 against 110 of the BJP, which formed the government with the support of five independents. Later, some Congress legislators defected to the BJP, bringing down its tally to 71.
The mood in the Congress camp in 2013 is upbeat after it left the ruling BJP behind in the recent urban local body polls, where the party won three out of seven major city corporations. These include Bellary, Mangalore and Davanagere. It was the single largest party in Mysore and Gulbarga.
Realising that the stakes are high given a divided BJP, especially after the exit of former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who is now with the Karnataka Janata Party, the Congress is leaving nothing to chance.
Defence Minister and senior leader A.K. Antony has been made in charge of the panel to ensure smooth coordination and monitor the election.
In New Delhi, initial consultations with state leaders, before the party's central poll panel screens the list of probable candidates, have already begun, said party sources.
The Central Election Committee is likely to meet March-end, and the final list of candidates is expected in the first week of April.
"There is a huge rush of aspirants. The problem is more than two equally capable candidates on many seats," said another leader.
The Congress is also grappling with over 20 rebels and BJP dissidents who are in the queue to join the party.
According to Congress insiders, the task of selecting the right candidates is challenging for the central leadership keeping in mind around a dozen feedback dossiers for all the 224 constituencies now available with the party.
Under instructions from Rahul Gandhi, the general secretary in charge of Karnataka, Madhusudan Mistry, has obtained direct feedback from the district unit chiefs for the first time.
In 2008, only the state unit chief took feedback from the district unit chiefs.
In another first, the central observers, who toured all the 224 constituencies last month, have also submitted their reports to the party leadership.
Besides, the Congress has done an internal survey on its prospects in Karnataka, said party sources.
"Reconciling the various reports would be a challenge," said a Congress leader.