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May 05, 2013 at 09:49am IST

Karnataka votes today, Congress hopes to breach BJP's citadel

Bangalore: The Karnataka Assembly elections, where voting began on Sunday morning, are seen as crucial polls for both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which are already preparing for the big battle of 2014. These elections are also a litmus test for the BJP, which is going to polls without Lingayat leader BS Yeddyurappa.

The Congress has also pulled out all the stops to return to power in a complex battle after more than an eight year long gap. As many as 1.35 lakh police personnel - 60,000 from the state, 20,000 home guards and rest from central paramilitary and neighbouring states - have been deployed for the single phase poll in which more than 4.36 crore people are eligible to exercise their franchise.

Polling, which commenced at 7 am, would continue till 6 pm with the timing extended by an hour in 223 Assembly segments of the total 224. Election in Periyapatna was countermanded to May 28 following the death of a BJP candidate. The ruling BJP, its main opponent the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda are the key players, but the presence of Karnataka Janatha Party (KJP) led by former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa has thrown in complexity.

Some poll surveys have predicted anti-incumbency swing against the BJP's first ever government in the South that they say would propel the Congress to be the single largest party or be within the striking distance of seat of power. The JD(S) is hoping to break new grounds beyond its stronghold in the old Mysore region, while KJP is aiming to play spoiler to BJP's chances. Both are fancying for themselves the role of a "kingmaker" in the event of a fractured mandate.

The poll fate of nearly 3,000 candidates would be sealed on Sunday. Prominent among them are Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar, opposition Congress leader Siddaramiah, Yeddyurappa, KPCC President G Parameshwara, Deputy Chief Minsiters KS Eswarappa and R Ashoka. Electoral authorities have set up about 52,000 booths of which about 10,000 have been identified as hypersensitive and more than as 14,000 as sensitive, which would come under the watchful eyes of officials with the help of web cameras.

As many as 65,000 electronic voting machines, which include about 10 per cent kept as reserve, are being used in the elections for which more than 2.5 lakh polling officers are on duty. In the 2008 elections, BJP secured 110 seats, three short of majority and formed the government with the help of five independents who were made Ministers. Congress bagged 80 seats and JD(S) 28. The overall voter turnout then was 64.91 per cent.

The Election Commission and a number of NGOs have joined hands for vigorous campaigns to boost the voter turnout, particularly in the country's IT capital of Bangalore.

What is at stake?

- Karnataka polls are the first big electoral test in 2013.

- BJP's southern citadel is under threat.

- For the Congress, it is critical to win Karnataka ahead of 2014.

- A strong showing by the JD(S) could strengthen the formation of the Third Front.

- Poor showing by the BJP might force it to name Narendra Modi as its PM candidate for 2014.

- For BS Yeddyurappa, a poor result may mean the end of his political career.

(With additional information from PTI)