Bengaluru: After a rancorous campaign over three months, Karnataka will vote to elect a new Assembly in a three-cornered contest on Saturday. 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 more than 4.96 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 2.52 crore voters, women around 2.44 crore, while there are 4,552 transgender electors.
Election office sources said over 55,600 polling stations have been set up, and there would be some auxiliary booths too. Over 3.5 lakh personnel will be on duty to ensure a free and fair poll.
Some polling stations in tribal areas will have ethnic look, sources said, adding government employees with disabilities will do duty at select polling stations for the first time. It is for the first time that people would be able know about the queue status at polling stations with large number of voters through a mobile app, sources said.
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 at retaining 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 the state between 2008 and 2013, the only time it did so, but its tenure was marred by intra-party feuds and allegations of corruption. One of its three chief ministers and 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 govt 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 Thursday the party will win over 130 constituencies.
Unlike in 2013, when the BJP split into factions with Yeddyurappa forming KJP and B Sriramulu of Ballari floating BSR Congress, they are all united this time. Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook an adrenaline-charged campaign for the BJP, while Congress president Rahul Gandhi helmed his party's electoral offensive.
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 223 constituencies of the 224 -member Assembly as election has been countermanded in Jayanagara following the death of BJP candidate and sitting MLA B N Vijaykumar. 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 Makkala Paksha, Samajwadi Party, Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha (one each) and Independents 9. Counting of votes will be taken up on May 15 and results will be declared the same day.