Karnataka records 70 per cent turnout in Assembly polls, exit polls predict tight contest between BJP and Congress


NEW DELHI: A voter turnout of nearly 70 per cent was recorded in the Karnataka Assembly elections on Wednesday where the ruling BJP, a combative Congress and the JD(S), which is hoping to be a kingmaker in the event of a hung assembly, are locked in a cliffhanger contest.

Several pollsters predicted that the Congress may have an edge in Karnataka, which is BJP’s southern citadel, in a hung assembly with a couple of them even projecting that the grand old party may get a majority on its own.

Counting of votes for the 224-member Assembly will be taken up on May 13.

”Largely peaceful voting in all 224 Assembly constituencies in Karnataka, and no repoll indicated in any of the 58,545 polling stations,” the Election Commission(EC) said.

Violence was reported from some areas including an incident where a poll officer was allegedly manhandled by some villagers, according to reports from districts.

According to the latest figures available tonight, the turnout stood at 69.71 per cent. The EC said the final figures will be known by Thursday.

Karnataka recorded a 72.36 per cent voter turnout in the 2018 Assembly polls which had thrown up a hung assembly with the BJP emerging as the single largest party with 104 seats, falling slightly short of getting a majority.

A total of 5.31 crore electors were eligible to cast their vote in 58,545 polling stations across the state, where 2,615 candidates are in the fray.

While the BJP, riding on the Modi juggernaut, is looking to break a 38-year-old poll jinx where the state has never voted the incumbent party to power, the Congress is hoping for a morale booster victory to give it a much-needed elbow room and momentum to position itself as the main opposition player in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

It also remains to be seen whether former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular) will emerge as a ”kingmaker” or a ”king” by holding the key to government formation, in the event of a hung verdict, as it has done in the past. The Aam Aadmi Party(AAP), which is in power in Punjab and Delhi, has also fielded candidates.

According to the latest voting data, Ramanagara in the Old Mysuru region recorded the highest turnout of 78.22 per cent, while the lowest polling was from Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) South limits (parts of Bengaluru city) at 48.63 per cent, election officials said.

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai rejected the exit polls, asserting that his party will win with a clear majority.

“Exit polls are exit polls. They can’t be 100 per cent correct. There will be variation that can change the whole scenario,” Bommai told reporters in his home constituency Shiggaon, from where he is in the poll fray.

“Our ground report says we will win with absolute majority. Let us wait till May 13.” Besides Bommai, prominent among those who voted include former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who is a Rajya Sabha member from Karnataka, Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi, and former chief ministers B S Yediyurappa and D V Sadananda Gowda (both BJP) and Siddaramaiah and Jagadish Shettar (both Congress) and IT industry veteran N R Narayana Murthy and wife Sudha Murty.

To draw people to exercise their voting rights, the EC took many initiatives such as theme based and ethnic polling booths, and pink booths exclusively operated by women.

Theme-based and ethnic polling booths — 737 in all across the State — added a lot of colour to the exercise.

The excitement among the first time voters was palpable. ”I am very happy to vote. This is my right”, was a standard refrain among the new voters According to the EC, it has set up 996 all women managed polling booths, 239 booths managed by people with disabilities and 286 managed by youth.

Many elderly voters also came to cast their vote with enthusiasm.

“I have completed 100 years. I am happy to vote. Everyone should vote and may good happen to everyone. I have been voting for the past 60 years. I never ever missed a single election without voting,” said Boramma, a centenarian from Melagodu in Holenarasipur Taulk of Hassan district who came to the polling booth with a stick for support holding the hand of her son.

The voting day also presented a sharp contrast where a birth and a death happened in polling booths.

The booths also witnessed brides and bridegrooms voting for their public representative before tying the nuptial knot with their chosen ones.

A woman delivered a baby boy soon after casting her vote at Korlagundi village in Kurugodu Taluk of Ballari district, according to reports.

A medical team along with some other women present at the booth made the arrangements and helped the woman, who developed pain, go into labour. ”Without much suffering, she delivered a baby boy at the polling station. The entire polling booth burst into joy,” an official said.

At Chikkole village in Belur Taluk of Hassan district, 49-year-old Jayanna died of heart attack soon after casting his vote. In another incident, Paravva Sidnal (70) died even before casting her vote at Yarajharvi village in Belagavi district.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier in the day urged 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.

The battle-ready BJP with its well-oiled election machine ran its campaign with a blitzkrieg by Prime Minister Modi.

The Congress manifesto proposing to ban the Bajrang Dal heated up the later half of the campaign as the BJP and Prime Minister Modi aggressively latched on to the issue to portray the grand old party as being against Lord Hanuman and the sentiments of Hindus.

Modi also made it a point to chant ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’ in all his speeches after the Congress released its manifesto.

Barbs like ‘venomous snake’, ‘Vishakanya’ and ‘Nalayak beta’ vitiated the poll campaign as some leaders used intemperate and abusive language.

While Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, who hails from Karnataka, likened Modi to a ‘venomous snake’ and his son and Congress candidate Priyank Kharge called the prime minister a ”nalayak beta”, BJP MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal described former Congress president and MP Sonia Gandhi as a ‘Vishakanya’ (venomous woman).

Source: Press Trust of India

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