Voter turnout picked up momentum and crossed the 50 per cent mark by 3 pm on Wednesday, in polling to elect representatives to the 224-member Karnataka Legislative Assembly.
The total voter turnout across the state stood at 52.18 per cent, with three more hours left for polling to end at 6 pm.
In the eight hours of voting, which began at 7 am, Ramanagara recorded the highest turnout of 63.36 per cent, while the the lowest polling was seen in Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) South limits (parts of Bengaluru city) at 40.28 per cent, election officials said.
The State is mainly witnessing a three-cornered contest between the ruling BJP, the Congress and former prime minister H D Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular).
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A total of 5.31 crore electors are eligible to cast their vote in 58,545 polling stations across the state, where 2,615 candidates are in the fray.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier on Wednesday urged the people of Karnataka to vote in large numbers and enrich the ”festival of democracy”.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi too appealed to the people of Karnataka to vote in large numbers to build a progressive and a ”40-per-cent-commission-free” state.
Villagers of Masabinal in Vijayapura district stopped a poll duty vehicle carrying electronic voting machines (EVMs), manhandled an officer and damaged control and ballot units on Wednesday following which 23 persons were arrested, the Election Commission said. The villagers stopped a sector officer’s vehicle which was carrying reserved EVMs and damaged two control and ballot units each and three VVPATs (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) machines, the EC said in a statement. ”Sector officer was manhandled, 23 people arrested”, the EC said, adding that top district officials rushed to the village, which comes under Basavana Bagewadi Assembly segment. Police sources said the villagers’ ”action” came after ”rumours” that officials were ”changing” the EVMs and VVPATs. Meanwhile, in Padmanabhanagar constituency here, some youth armed with sticks attacked their political rivals in a polling booth at Papaiah Garden. They went on a rampage in which a few women standing in queue to vote sustained injuries, the sources said.
In another incident at Sanjeevarayanakote in Ballari district, some Congress and BJP workers came to blows.
Karnataka recorded a voter turnout of 72.36 per cent in the 2018 Assembly polls. The BJP had then emerged as the single largest party by winning 104 seats, followed by Congress with 80 seats and JD(S) 37. There was also one independent member, while the BSP and Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party (KPJP) got one legislator each elected. With no party getting a clear majority at the time and as Congress and JD(S) were trying to forge an alliance, B S Yediyurappa of the BJP, which was the single largest party, staked a claim and formed the government. However, the government was dissolved within three days, ahead of a trust vote, as Yediyurappa was unable to muster the numbers. Subsequently, the Congress-JD(S) alliance formed the government with H D Kumaraswamy as Chief Minister, but the wobbly dispensation collapsed in 14 months, as 17 legislators resigned and came out of the ruling coalition. They defected to the BJP and facilitated the party’s return to power. In the bypolls held subsequently in 2019, the ruling party won 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, independents two, speaker one and vacant six (following deaths and resignations to join other parties ahead of the polls).
While the ruling BJP, riding on the Modi juggernaut, wants to break the 38-year jinx — the state has never voted back the incumbent party to power since 1985 — and retain its southern citadel, the Congress is seeking to wrest power to give the party much-needed elbow room and momentum to position itself as the main opposition player in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Also what needs to be watched out for is whether the JD(S) would emerge as ”kingmaker” or ”king”, by holding the key to government formation in the event of a hung verdict, as it has done in the past.
In a bid to check apathy among voters, the Election Commission decided to hold polling in the middle of the week to prevent people planning an outing by clubbing the poll-day holiday with the weekend break.
The votes will be counted on May 13.