The counting of votes for the Karnataka Assembly elections 2018 - a bitterly fought political battle between the BJP, Congress and JD(S) - is underway. The three parties are sitting on an edge as the verdict will have a bearing on their fortunes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The early trends showed that Congress and BJP in a neck-and-neck fight, while JD(S) kept a distant third position, but soon the picture changed as BJP shot miles ahead of Congress, while JDS indicated a performance far better than expected by any exit poll or political pundits.
The 72.13 per cent voter turnout in the elections broke all records and has been the highest since 1952 state polls, according to the state Election Commission.
Karnataka Exit Poll: IndiaTV-VMR predicts fractured mandate; Congress and BJP in neck-and-neck fight
Also Read: Karnataka Assembly Election Results LIVE Updates: Counting of votes for 222 seats to begin shortly; 50,000 personnel deployed across state
The ruling Congress and the BJP are the main contenders for power, while former prime minister H D Deve Gowda's JD(S) is likely to play the kingmaker, according to most surveys and opinion polls.
The Congress is aiming at retaining the only large state it rules after Punjab, while the BJP is striving to form its government in Karnataka, which party president Amit Shah said will be its "gateway to south", for a second time.
The BJP had ruled the state between 2008 and 2013, the only time it did so, but its tenure was marred by intra-party feuds and allegations of corruption. One of its three chief ministers and its current chief ministerial candidate B S Yeddyurappa was in jail over corruption charges.
Prediction of hung assembly by India TV-VMR Exit and Opinion Polls
Like many other opinion polls, India TV-VMR Opinion Poll predicted a hung assembly with the Congress predicted to win 96 seats, BJP 85 seats and JDS over 38 seats, which is likely to play the kingmaker.
The India TV-VMR Exit Poll too came up with a similar prediction, though with a slight up-down in the number of seats. The exit poll said that Congress may win 97 seats, BJP 94 seats, while the JD(S)+ may garner 28 seats.
However, a poll of exit polls has come up with a different prediction, with the BJP likely to win 101 seats, Congress 88 seats and JD(S) 30 seats.
The state elections have more or less turned into a prestige issue for both the BJP, which left no stone unturned to turn the tide with its aggressive campaigning and inviting manifesto.
The Congress, on the other hand, is hoping to break the jinx as no party in Karnataka has won a second successive term in office since 1985 when the Janata Dal under Ramakrishna Hegde had retained power.
In one of the most high-profile elections in recent times, 222 of the 224 seats went to polls on May 12. Polling for R R Nagar seat was deferred on account of alleged electoral malpractices, while it was countermanded in Jayanagar seat following the death of the BJP candidate.
Counting of votes would begin at 8 am in nearly 40 counting centres, election office sources said.
The trends are likely to begin to trickle within an hour and all results are expected to be declared by late evening.
In case of a clear verdict in favour of the Congress, the grand old party will have broken the jinx of no political party retaining the reins of the state since 1985, when the erstwhile Janata Dal formed the government under Ramakrishna Hegde for a second consecutive term.
ALSO READ | IndiaTV Final Opinion Poll on Karnataka Elections: Hung assembly predicted; Congress likely to get 96 seats, BJP 85, JD(S) to play kingmaker
It is, however, unclear if Siddaramaiah, a backward class leader with a formidable reputation, will be the next chief minister in the event of a Congress victory. Though the Congress had said he would be its face in the elections, it stopped short of declaring him the party's chief ministerial candidate.
Siddaramaiah caused a political flutter when he said yesterday that he was ready to make way for a Dalit chief minister if the Congress high command so decided, a statement many felt was aimed at keeping the JD(S) in good humour so as to stitch an alliance in case of a fractured mandate. Siddramaiah is a former JD(S) man and his ties with Deve Gowda's party continue to be strained.
"I am confident that the Congress would win the elections with a majority and I would be the CM," Siddaramaiah had told journalists earlier. However, when asked yesterday if he was ready to make way for a Dalit leader as chief minister, he said, "I have no objection. I am not against anybody but the decision has to be left to the high command." He, however, said the high command would also consider the views of the winning candidates before deciding the next chief minister.
Since the Congress had not declared its chief ministerial candidate, Dalit veterans in the party like its leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and state Congress chief G Parameshwara are being seen as possible alternatives.
What a victory in Karnataka means for BJP and Congress
A victory in Karnataka would help boost the sagging morale of the Congress, which is on a downhill journey, losing state after state since Narendra Modi came to power at the Centre. Losing Karnataka will drastically weaken its claim for the leadership of a broader anti-BJP alliance that is being talked about.
A victory for the BJP, on the other hand, will reflect the enduring charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his capacity to power his party to victory across the country, clearing demographic and topographical obstacles. It would also further galvanise the BJP cadre before the Assembly elections in party-ruled Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh later this year.
The JD(S) has also claimed it would win a majority and that its chief ministerial candidate H D Kumaraswamy will be the "king" and not the "kingmaker". The party may or may not win the elections, but will play the kingmaker if the electorate give a split verdict, making Deve Gowda an important player in the state politics once again.
With the JD(S) having had partnered with both BJP and Congress in the past, it would be tough to predict which way it will go this time in the event of a hung House. One of the possible scenarios could be the coming together of the Congress and the JD(S), as had happened in 2004 when they formed the government under Congress heavyweight Dharm Singh after the state elected a hung House. If that happens, JD(S) may not agree to Siddaramaiah heading a coalition government and likely want a Dalit leader at the helm.
Lingayat vote may be key to the new Assembly
According to various surveys, Lingayats can influence voting in nearly 100 seats of the 224 Assembly seats going to polls in May. The community has a large presence in central Karnataka, particularly in Davanagere, Chitradurga and Shivamogga.
Also, the state has so far had nine chief ministers belonging to the Lingayat community, before Siddaramaiah-led Congress came to power in the state. The community has also sent a number of leaders to the Centre.
Lingayats are traditionally known to vote for the BJP and in return, the party has always given the community a major chunk in terms of party tickets.
Also, what may prove beneficial for the saffron party is that B S Yeddyurappa - BJP's CM candidate in the state - is a stalwart in the community. The party's 2008 win, when the party came to power in Karnataka for the first time, is largely credited to the support it received from the Lingayat community.
The BJP has seen its Lingayat vote base shrinking from 2008 to 2013. The state government's decision to grant minority status to the community is an attempt at further splitting the saffron party's vote base, which the BJP is hoping to counter by playing the 'sympathy card' to kindle sentiments in favour of its chief ministerial candidate, BS Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat himself.