Congressâ€™s self-inflicted blows will prove painful Splitting headaches Congressâ€™s self-inflicted blows will prove painful at state and national polls HALF a century of feuding was never going to end in a whimper. For decades the people of Telangana, an inland region of a big southern state, Andhra Pradesh (AP), have demanded their own state. On October 3rd Indiaâ€™s cabinet at last said they would get one: most likely before a general election due in May. Congress rules both nationally and in AP (with a population of 85m, more than Egypt). In July it said it would split the existing state in two. But reaction from the streets has been furious. Since the cabinet announcement, massive protests in coastal AP and a strike of 30,000 power-sector workers have shut down electricity, banks and even water supplies. Pictures of darkened hospitals, worries about babies in incubators and scenes of burning streets are spreading a sense of emergency. A curfew allows police to shoot on sight in Vizianagaram, a coastal town. Leaders of nearby states warn that the protests threaten Indiaâ€™s southern electricity grid. This all matters to Congress because AP gives it more MPs than any other state and is thus crucial to the partyâ€™s hopes of being re-elected. Congress knew the split risked political turmoil, but so would doing nothing. It expected dissatisfaction in AP, but even in Telangana support for the move now appears to be in doubt. In the 2009 general election, Congress won 33 of its 206 seats from AP. A recent poll suggests it could get ten seats or fewer, all from Telangana. â€œThis is a very suicidal step for Congress,â€ says one MP. The mess undermines Congressâ€™s chances of forming a government in Delhi after the next election. The Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could take advantage in Hyderabad, which will be the joint capital of the two states for ten years and which sees occasional Hindu-Muslim tension. More likely, third parties will gain, mirroring a national trend. They are unlikely to ally with Congress. Trouble in AP compounds the ruling partyâ€™s other, largely self-inflicted, problems. Most obviously, it now fares badly among urban voters. In 2009 it did better than expected, winning 26 more city seats than in 2004. Voters saw Manmohan Singh, the prime minister (above, centre), as a competent economic manager untainted by corruption. No longer. There is gloom over the economy, which is failing to create jobs. On October 8th the IMF said Indian GDP will grow by 3.8% this year, behind even sub-Saharan Africa. Congress has passed new welfare programmes, but they mostly help villagers rather than urban voters. Stuck with high inflation, the latter will blame the government for reforms not made, or carried out too late. As for Mr Singh, his reputation for probity is in tatters. Despite fury over many scandals, his government last month tried to ram through a law to give convicted politicians immunity, allowing them to stay in office. It also thinks a right-to-information law should not apply to political parties. In addition, Mr Singhâ€™s staff say they have lost files that opponents claim would implicate people at the heart of government in a massive coal scam. Letting Mr Singh stew, Congress leaders are pushing forward Rahul Gandhi (pictured left) as an anti-corruption figure. At a press conference on September 27th, the son of Sonia Gandhi, the party chief, unexpectedly laid into Mr Singhâ€™s immunity law for politicians. His comments caused much excitement, and the planned law was scrapped. But it exposed division and muddle at the top. Mr Gandhi, though, hardly looks like a leader in waiting. Since his intervention, he has not explained just how he would tackle corruption. He caused a stir mostly because it is so rare to hear the scion of the Gandhi family say anything that is not a trite generalisation. Mr Gandhiâ€™s welcome action has awkward consequences for Congress. Without a law to let convicted politicians keep their seats, the party will find it harder to entice others into making alliances with it. On October 3rd a court sentenced Lalu Prasad Yadav, once Biharâ€™s chief minister, to five years of â€œrigorous imprisonmentâ€ for his part in stealing farmersâ€™ funds in the 1990s. His party once backed Congress at national level but now looks less ableâ€”or willingâ€”to do so again. The time of reckoning is fast approaching. Dates have just been set for five state assembly elections in the next two months, the last such polls before the national vote. The BJP is likely to win the bigger contests in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Congress has a narrow chance in Delhi, and in tiny Mizoram in the north-east. The BJP expects these polls to give its candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi (above, right), momentum in the election year. His supporters talk of a â€œModi waveâ€ soon to wash over India. The strongman from Gujarat offers leadership that is missing in Congress. Mr Modi has recently drawn big rallies in Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Delhi. Urban voters and investors like him. Still, the BJPâ€™s national prospects are unclear. Mr Modi is controversial, especially among Muslims, after riots in 2002 that killed over 1,000 people in Gujarat on his watch. The latest national poll, in August, showed Congressâ€™s ruling alliance bleeding support, suggesting a loss of 122 of its 259 seats. Surprisingly, though, the poll also showed the BJPâ€™s alliance losing a handful of seats. The Supreme Court has just ordered that ballot papers must include a â€œnone of the aboveâ€ option. That could prove popular. Indian politics: Splitting headaches | The Economist ***************************************** Most lamentable. What a way to go for the political party that was once the hope of the nation!