Karnataka: Indian state heads to polls after bitter campaign in key test for Modi
More than 50 million people are set to cast votes in local state elections in southern India’s Karnataka on Wednesday that will serve as a critical test for prime minister Narendra Modi.
The polls are crucial for Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which faces the challenge of retaining incumbency in the only southern Indian state where it currently has a government. The other southern states – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana – have all consistently rejected the BJP.
The elections have also seen a lengthy, high-voltage campaign against the opposition Congress party that is vying for a return to power in Karnataka.
The Karnataka state assembly elections are also critical for the BJP and Mr Modi’s national pitch to return to power in national-level elections that will be held next year.
Home to India’s Silicon Valley city Bengaluru, Karnataka has three major political players in the fray – the BJP, the Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) – all of whom have aggressively campaigned since the start of this year to woo voters by holding miles-long mega rallies and competing over local and federal issues like regional caste identities, reservations and even pitting the state’s own milk brand against the one in Mr Modi’s Gujarat.
The Election Commission of India, that supervises the country’s elections, is going to hold the polling exercise on Wednesday and announce results on Saturday.
The agency has set up more than 58,000 polling booths across the sixth largest Indian state to accommodate nearly 890 voters at every station.
Campaigning for the polls concluded on Sunday, with a slew of rallies held by Mr Modi and his political opponents from the Congress, Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, across the length and breadth of Bengaluru.
Mr Modi held 19 public meetings and six roadshows, with the BJP fielding 222 contenders in the polls. The contest is for a total 224 seats and the winner will need to cross the halfway mark of 113 to form a government in Karnataka.
In a strong anti-BJP campaign, the Gandhi duo, along with regional stalwarts from the party, like DK Shivkumar and ex-chief minister Siddaramaiah, have fiercely targeted Mr Modi’s party for not focusing on critical issues facing the state and failing to deliver on previous poll promises.
The opposition party also targeted fringe organisations like the Bajrang Dal, that are a part of the same umbrella family as the BJP, and said it will take decisive action against these groups.
Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi, the mother of the two Gandhi scions, also made a rare campaign appearance in the Hubli district.
The Karnataka elections have been dominated by strong regional caste issues between two factions: the Lingayats and the Vokkaliga community, that represent 17 and 11 per cent of the state population respectively.
Karnataka has seen a trend for nearly four decades of alternating political parties coming to power, something Mr Modi wants to break by returning to power there.