The high-pitched election campaign for May 12 Karnataka Assembly elections came to an end on Thursday evening.
The vitriol-filled campaign witnessed last-gasp efforts by top leaders of both BJP, Congress and JD(S), including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi, to sway the voters in a likely cliff-hanger.
Karnataka Elections 2018: War of words between Congress, BJP expected to intensify on last day of campaign today
Rahul Gandhi presser before Karnataka polls: 'I attract anger from PM Modi because he views me as a threat'
A wide range of issues, from corruption to communalism, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s Rs 70 lakh Hublot watch to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin, were raised in the electoral potboiler.
The voting will take place in the state on May 12 and the counting of votes will be done on May 15.
Polling will be held in 223 constituencies as election to the Jayanagar constituency in south Bengaluru has been countermanded due to the death of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate B.N. Vijaya Kumar on May 4.
Leaders of the three main contending parties -- ruling Congress, BJP and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) -- including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress President Rahul Gandhi, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and former Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda, who had invested heavily in the month-long campaign, held road shows and press conferences to wind up the mass contact programme of wooing the electorate.
For the BJP, it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who led the election campaign despite the party having declared B S Yeddyurappa its chief ministerial candidate.
Like all state polls since he assumed the reins of power in New Delhi, Modi helmed the BJP’s adrenaline-charged campaign despite the party having declared B S Yeddyurappa its chief ministerial candidate, while Rahul Gandhi helmed that of the Congress.
Though Modi remained out of the electoral scene for a long time after addressing a public meeting in February, he launched a blitzkrieg on May 1, addressing over a score of rallies in his bid to wrest the key southern state, which BJP chief Amit Shah dubbed as the party’s “gateway to south”, from the Congress.
Always high on energy during elections, he adddressed at least three rallies every day when he was in Karnataka, or else interacted with workers of the BJP’s different frontal organisations through the ‘Namo App’. Though development remained part of the political discourse, it was overtaken by a slanging match between the two parties over corruption.
The prime minister and Amit Shah raised the issue of the killing of RSS and BJP workers by SDPI, a radical Islamist political party floated by the Popular Front of India, which Modi said was the “abc of communalism”. Shah claimed two of the candidates fielded by the Congress were, in fact, members of the SDPI.
On day one of his campaign, Modi raked up the issue of Sonia’s foreign origin at an election rally where he dared the Congress chief to speak for 15 minutes about the achievements of the Karnataka government in any language, including his “mother’s mother tongue”.
An emotional Rahul Gandhi hit back on Thursday at a press conference where he said,”My mother is an Italian. She has lived the larger part of her life in India. She is more Indian than many, many Indians I have seen.”
Modi repeatedly addressed the Siddaramaiah ministry as “seedha rupaiah government (a government that takes bribes for work) and “10 per cent commission government”.
Provoked, Siddaramaiah first called the Modi dispensation a “90 per cent commission government” and then served legal notices to Modi and Shah, demanding an apology and threatening to file Rs 100 crore civil and criminal defamation suit if they did not tender it.
Rally after election rally, Rahul Gandhi targeted BJP’s chief ministerial candidate Yeddyurappa over corruption when he helmed the state while BJP was in power between 2008 and 2013.
“Will Modi ji tell the people of Karnataka why a man who spent time in jail for corruption is the BJP’s CM candidate? Why the BJP has given 8 tickets to Reddy brothers and their associates who looted Rs 35,000 crore from the people of Karnataka?” he asked, as he sought to paint the saffron party into a corner.
The Congress president frequently referred to fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi in his speeches, alleging the government allowed him to flee the country after defrauding the Punjab National Bank fraud.
On the last day of electioneering, Rahul Gandhi addressed the media and held road shows at Hubballi, while BJP President Amit Shah campaigned in Badami in Bagalkot district from where Siddaramaiah is contesting from second seat.
The Congress chief toured across the districts of Kolar, Chikkaballapur, Tumakuru and Bengaluru in his last leg of campaigning over the last three days.
Gandhi's extensive campaign over the last few months across the state included several corner meetings, public rallies, road shows, dining at public eateries with the locals, visits to prominent religious institutions and riding a busy metro in the capital city etc.
The party's former president and Gandhi's mother Sonia Gandhi addressed a lone public meeting in Vijayapura district on Tuesday after Modi addressed a meeting on the same day.
Modi, who has powered the BJP to victory after victory in Assembly polls in states in the last four years, also invoked nationalism and B R Ambedkar, after he was in the Congress president’s firing line over a string of attacks on Dalits. He slammed the Congress for raising questions about the Army’s surgical strikes in PoK.
Though Modi did not campaign in Karnataka today, he addressed BJP’s SC/ST/OBC and Slum Morcha workers through his Namo App and said, “There is no place for dalits and backward classes in the heart of the Congress.”
He accused the Congress of “insulting” Ambedkar, a Dalit icon. Sonia Gandhi, who avoided the rough and tumble of elections for two years after she was taken ill during a roadshow in Varanasi ahead of the Uttar Pradesh polls, also addressed a rally in the Lingayat stronghold of Vijayapura where she said “Modi is possessed by the devil of ‘Congress mukt Bharat’ (bhoot lag gaya hai)”.
Apart from Shah, who vigourously campaigned across the state over the last two months, the BJP fielded its Hindutva mascot Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who toured the communally sensitive coastal belt of Dakshina Kannada and Uttara Kannada district. Adityanath exhorted electors to elect a government that can protect people from “jihadi” forces.
After Rahul Gandhi publicly declared he was ready to become the prime minister if Congress emerged as the single largest party, Modi mocked him, calling him a “dynast” and wondering whether the nation will accept him as its leader. The campaign was hit by a “fake” voter ID card scandal in it dying moments, but election officials said those appeared to be genuine.
Nearly 10,000 cards were recovered from a flat in Rajarajeshwari Nagar constituency on Tuesday, setting off a war of words between the Congress and BJP, with each alleging the owner of the apartment owed allegiance to the rival party.
The contentious issue of the Siddaramaiah government recommending religious minority status for the numerically strong Lingayat community took a back seat as the two parties appeared unsure about its electoral fallout.
Opinion polls and surveys have projected a thriller of a contest, with neither BJP nor the Congress getting a majority on its own and the JD(S) of former prime minister H D Deve Gowda playing the kingmaker.
Watch video: Election campaign for Karnataka Assembly Elections 2018 comes to an end
(With agency inputs)