Bangalore: Congress president Sonia Gandhi is making a brief stop in Karnataka Thursday and the divided state party unit hopes that her visit will unite leaders and enthuse workers ahead of assembly elections, due next May.
The visit, the second in six months, will last just a few hours.
Two public engagements are scheduled, and Sonia Gandhi is expected to address party workers and attend Dasara festivities at the famous Kudroli Gokarnanatheshwara temple dedicated to lord Shiva.
Gandhi will arrive Thursday in the coastal town of Mangalore, about 350 km from here. She is set to return to New Delhi in the evening after the two functions.
The state unit has made elaborate arrangements at Nehru Maidan in Mangalore to accommodate around 20,000 party workers; after this function, the Congress president will attend Dasara festivities at the Shiva temple in Mangalore.
The temple is celebrating its centenary this year. Sonia Gandhi’s husband Rajiv Gandhi had inaugurated the renovated temple in February 1991.
Gandhi’s visit comes at a time when the state Congress party is locked in a battle over the continuation of G. Parameshwara as Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president.
A section of leaders, particularly those belonging to the Lingayat community, has been openly campaigning for his removal, seeking that one of their own, Shamanur Shivashankarappa be made KPCC head, with an eye on electoral prospects.
While Parameshwara is a Dalit, the 80-year-old Shivashankarappa is a veteran Congressman and has been state unit treasurer for more than ten years now.
Gandhi’s last visit to the state was an attempt to woo Lingayats, as its leaders have been saying that the community, which makes up 17 percent of the state’s 65 million population, feels neglected by the Congress and could back the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The BJP came to power for the first time in Karnataka after the last assembly polls in May 2008.
There has been no end to bickering in the state unit of the Congress, even though Gandhi, during her April visit, called on state party leaders and workers to sink their differences and work unitedly to recapture power.
A delegation of Lingayat leaders and legislators had gone to New Delhi last month to pressure Gandhi to remove Parameshwara.
However, she declined to meet them. The fight for the leadership of the state unit continues, as polls draw closer.
The Congress has been out of power in the state since 2006, when its coalition government with Janata Dal-Secular collapsed.
BJP rule in the state has been marred by a number of corruption scandals. In its four years in office, the party has seen three chief ministers – B.S. Yeddyurappa, Sadananda Gowda, and Jagadish Shettar.