All eyes on election results as polling closes in South Indian state crucial to Modi’s BJP

Voting began at 7am on May 10 at 58,545 polling booths across India's Karnataka state, mostly in government schools. ST PHOTO: ROHINI MOHAN
BJP supporters showing their inked fingers in Chickpet constituency in Karnataka's capital of Bengaluru. ST PHOTO: ROHINI MOHAN

BENGALURU – Two-thirds of Karnataka’s 53 million voters had cast their votes by 5pm in Wednesday’s state assembly election, 1½ hours before the polls closed.

The election results for the crucial southern state will be announced on Saturday.

A total of 2,615 candidates contested in 224 seats.

Although hobbled by graft allegations against several of its legislators, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes to return to power in its sole southern stronghold.

But if neither the BJP nor the opposition Congress party wins a majority, one of them will have to negotiate a coalition with regional party Janata Dal (Secular) – which is expected to win in the southern districts – in order to form the state government. 

The final voter turnout had not been announced by press time. Last-minute voters could push the turnout closer to 2018’s unprecedented 71 per cent.

Some candidates from the three parties told The Straits Times that they had hoped for a larger voter turnout, which could indicate that people want change – or, at the very least, push the vote decisively in a single party’s favour.

But no one party won a simple majority in the last election despite the large turnout. The Congress party and Janata Dal (Secular) had a brief and wobbly coalition government before a slew of legislators defected to the BJP, which then formed the government.

Analysts say the outcome of this election is a bellwether of voter sentiment ahead of national elections expected in May 2023.

Wednesday’s voting began at 7am at 58,545 polling booths across the state, mostly in government schools. Over 60,000 school teachers were deployed as polling officials. 

In the neighbourhood of Jayanagar in Karnataka’s capital of Bengaluru, a group of retirees went straight from their morning walk at the Lal Bagh Botanical Garden to their polling booth at 7.15am to cast their vote.

Polling for the Karnataka state assembly election in the multi-ethnic neighbourhood of Ulsoor in Bengaluru on May 10. ST PHOTO: ROHINI MOHAN

Only Mr Dinesh Kumar, a security guard at a nearby idli and thosai eatery, had beat them to it. “I came at 7am sharp because I have to get to work,” he said, proud that he was the booth’s first voter. 

Mrs Anisha Cariappa, 45, a voter in Bengaluru’s Ulsoor constituency, said: “I hope some party wins a majority, so that we are spared the constant politicking instead of governing.”

Voting was done on electronic voting machines, and voters’ left index fingers were marked with indelible ink to prevent duplicate voting. 

Voters’ left index fingers were marked with indelible ink to prevent duplicate voting.  ST PHOTO: ROHINI MOHAN

Many families took selfies outside their booths, holding up their voter identity cards or inked finger. Yoga instructor Amaresh Kumar’s toddler also had an inked finger – a polling official in a good mood seemed to have indulged the child accompanying his parents. 

The Election Commission had picked a Wednesday for the election, in case people headed off on weekend vacations. It had also recommended that offices make polling day a paid holiday for employees. 

The highest turnout was in the coastal districts and the coffee-growing region of Kodagu, where the BJP’s Hindu nationalist campaign has many supporters. 

Women in Chickpet constituency in Bengaluru find shade in an autorickshaw to eat lunch after they voted. ST PHOTO: ROHINI MOHAN

In the run-up to the election, the BJP tried to win new groups over, wooing the Vokkaligas, the dominant land-owning community in the Old Mysore region where Janata Dal (Secular) and its traditional rival Congress rule the roost.

To give the state BJP a boost, its most popular leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, visited Karnataka dozens of times in March and early April. In the last seven days of campaigning, he set out from New Delhi to address 19 rallies across the state and held six roadshows, including the last one in Bengaluru that covered 26km. 

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