Bengaluru: After a hectic campaign for over three months, Karnataka votes today to elect a new government. The ruling Congress and the BJP are the main contenders for power, while former prime minister H D Deve Gowda's JD(S) is likely to play the kingmaker, according to most surveys and opinion polls.
There are over five crore voters who are eligible to exercise their franchise to choose their representatives from a field of little over 2,600 candidates. Men account for over 2.56 crore voters, women around 2.50 crore, while there are 5,055 transgender voters.
Election office sources said over 58,008 polling stations have been set up of which 12,002 have been designated as "critical". Over 3.5 lakh personnel are on duty to ensure a free and fair poll.
According to reports, for the first time people would be able know about the queue status at polling stations with large number of voters through a mobile app.
No party in Karnataka has won a second successive term in office since 1985 when the Janata Dal under Ramakrishna Hegde had retained power. The Congress is aiming to retain the only large state it rules after Punjab, while the BJP is striving to form its government in Karnataka, which party president Amit Shah said will be its "gateway to south", for a second time.
The BJP had ruled Karnataka between 2008 and 2013, the only time it did so, but its tenure was marred by feuds within the party and allegations of corruption. Its current chief ministerial candidate B S Yeddyurappa was in jail over corruption charges.
JD(S) state president H D Kumaraswamy has conceded it was a "battle for survival" for his party which has been out of power for a decade now. The Congress is, however, confident of breaking the jinx, with Chief Minister Siddaramaiah saying the party will create history. "I am often told history is against me as no sitting government in Karnataka has been re-elected in a long time. But we are here to create history and not to obey it," Siddaramaiah tweeted.
The Congress' main challenger BJP has spared no effort to ensure that history is repeated. Though the BJP launched its campaign, calling it "mission 150 (seats)", Shah told a press conference on the last day of campaigning on Thursday the party will win over 130 constituencies.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed over 20 election rallies in the state for the BJP, while Congress president Rahul Gandhi met the people of Karnataka apart from holding public meetings.
Four current and former chief ministers are also in the fray, including Siddramaiah, who is contesting from Badami and Chamundeshwari, Yeddyurappa from Shikaripura, Kumaraswamy (Chennapatna and Ramanagara), and BJP's Jagdish Shettar from Hubbali-Dharwad.
Polling will be held in 222 constituencies of the 224-member assembly. Election has been countermanded in Jayanagara following the death of BJP candidate and sitting MLA B N Vijaykumar. Voting has also been deferred in Bengaluru's Rajarajeshwari Nagar (RR Nagar) constituency where nearly 10,000 voter ID cards were found in an apartment this week. The voting will now be held in this constituency on May 28.
The Congress party had won 122 seats in the 2013 elections, ten more than the halfway mark. It also had the support of some independent MLAs and those of smaller parties. The BJP and JD(S) had 40 seats each, Karnataka Jantha Paksha 6, Badavara Shramikara Raitra 4, Karnataka MakkalaPaksha, Samajwadi Party, Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha (one each)and Independents 9.
Counting of votes and the announcement of results will take place on Tuesday, May 15.
(With inputs from agencies)...