After a roaring campaign by political parties in Karnataka, the state is all set to elect its representatives to the 224-member Legislative Assembly on Wednesday. The voting in the southern state began at 7 AM today and will go on till 6 PM.
Many polling stations in Bengaluru saw brisk polling, with senior citizens leading from the front at some of them. Among those who casted their votes early include Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, former chief minister B S Yediyurappa, IT industry veteran N R Narayana Murthy along with wife Sudha Murty, and Mysuru royal family member 'Rajamate' Pramoda Devi Wadiyar.
BJP stalwart Yediyurappa, along with sons -- party candidate B Y Vijayendra and Shivamogga MP B Y Raghavendra -- other family members, visited a temple in the morning ahead of voting at Shikaripura in Shivamogga district.
The stakes are high and the major parties in contention are the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress, Janata Dal (Secular) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), whose candidates made a strong pitch seeking to boost their prospects at the hustings. The parties have also stressed on getting a clear mandate to form a strong and stable government in the state, unlike what happened after the 2018 polls.
A total of 5,31,33,054 electors are eligible to cast their votes in 58,545 polling stations across the state. As many as 2,615 candidates are in the fray, including 2,430 male, 184 female and one from the third gender.
The ruling BJP, riding on the Modi juggernaut, is seeking to break the 38-year jinx of reflecting the incumbent party to power and retain its southern citadel. Meanwhile, Congress is seeking to wrest power to give itself the much-needed elbow room and momentum it needs to be the main opposition player in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
At the same, eyes are on the former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular) which will emerge as a "kingmaker" or a "king" by holding the key for government formation, in the event of a hung verdict, something Karnataka has seen happening in the past.
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai (Shiggaon), Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah (Varuna), JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy (Channapatna), state Congress President D K Shivakumar (Kanakapura) are the among the top candidates in the fray.
Meanwhile, Jagadish Shettar (Hubli-Dharwad Central) is the other former CM, who has emerged as a key player this election. Shettar had recently joined Congress, quitting BJP.
Elaborate security arrangements have been made across the state for the smooth conduct of elections and forces have been deployed from neighbouring states as well. Around 4 lakh polling personnel are engaged in the electoral process.
As many as 84,119 State Police Officers and 58,500 CAPF (Central Armed Police Forces ) police in 650 CoYs (companies) are on Law & Order and security duty on poll day across the state.
'Critical Polling Stations' are covered by one or more of the measures like Micro Observers, Webcasting and CCTVs to keep a watch on the polling process as force multipliers.
Malady of voter apathy
In a bid to check apathy among voters, the Election Commission decided to keep the polling date in the middle of the week in order to prevent people from planning a vacation or outing by clubbing the poll-day holiday with the weekend break.
"Date of the poll has been kept on a Wednesday. Had it been on a Monday, it would have come with a holiday of Saturday and Sunday. And had it been on a Tuesday, take a day's off and we can go out ... Wednesday is a little difficult," Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar told reporters during the polling announcement.
Voter apathy is a term now used by the poll panel to describe the tendency among the electorate to stay indoors on voting day rather than going to the polling station to exercise their franchise.
Recap of 2018 Assembly polls
Karnataka had recorded a voter turnout of 72.36 per cent in the 2018 Assembly polls.
In 2018, BJP emerged as the single largest party by winning 104 seats, followed by Congress 80, JD(S) 37, and one each independent, from BSP and Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party (KPJP)
With no party having a clear majority and with Congress and JD(S) trying to forge an alliance, BS Yediyurappa of BJP staked claim as the single largest party and formed the government but had to resign within three days ahead of the trust vote, unable to muster numbers.
Subsequently, the Congress-JD(S) alliance formed the government with Kumaraswamy as Chief Minister. However, the wobbly government collapsed in 14 months, as 17 legislators including independents resigned and came out of the ruling coalition, and defected to BJP.
The BJP returned to power and, in the bypolls held subsequently in 2019, the ruling party swept by winning 12 out of 15 seats.
In the outgoing Assembly, the ruling BJP has 116 MLAs, followed by the Congress 69, JD(S) 29, BSP one, Independent two, Speaker one and vacant six (following deaths and resignation to join other parties ahead of polls).
The counting of votes in Karnataka will be held on May 13.