A staggering 46 million voters will elect 28 lawmakers when Karnataka votes on Thursday in the sixth phase of the general election and the BJP is betting big on its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to do well.
The political fortunes of 434 candidates, including 195 independents and 21 women, in 28 parliamentary constituencies, with five reserved for Dalits (SCs) and two for tribals (STs), will be decided.
"Polling is in one phase this time unlike in the past, as we were able to conduct elections to the 224 legislative assembly segments on a single day - May 5, 2013," state Chief Electoral Officer Anil Kumar Jha said ahead of the voting day.
With the Congress returning to power in May 2013 after a decade and extending its honeymoon period to ride on its pro-poor image, an embattled BJP is betting on the popularity of Modi to retain as many of the 19 seats it won in the 2009 elections.
Though the Congress won only six seats in the last general elections, it improved the tally to nine by winning all three bye-elections held during the 15th Lok Sabha term. The ruling party first wrested the Udupi-Chikmagalur seat in March 2012 from the BJP and subsequently the Mandya and Bangalore Rural seats from the JD-S in Augtust 2013, reducing the latter's strength to one from three earlier.
Besides the two arch rivals (Congress & BJP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are contesting all 28 seats, while a shrinking JD-S is locked in 24, as one of its candidates (Naseer Bhagwan) retired from Belgaum due to financial crunch and it did not have candidates for three other seats. Realising that the Congress benefited from the vote-split in the assembly polls, caused by Karnataka Janata Party (KJP), a regional outfit, floated by former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, a desperate BJP lured him back into its fold to prevent a repeat of the 2013 debacle and regain votes in its strongholds across coastal, central and northern regions of the state.
In spite of losing the state nearly a year ago owing to scams, scandals and sleaze, a united and resurgent BJP is hoping to ride on a `Modi wave' claimed by its frenzied cadres and die-hard supporters to be sweeping the country.
Unfazed by the BJP charge, an upbeat Congress has been trying to make light of the anti-incumbency trend simmering in the people against the UPA government for its failure to check price rise, inflation, corruption and jobless growth. Sensing anger of the people against the Congress and the mood for a change at the helm, the BJP's state unit made Modi visit Karnataka four times during the last three weeks to campaign for its candidates by addressing a dozen public rallies across the state.
To counter and neutralise the `Modi effect' on the electorate, the Congress too made its president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi visit the state last week and both had cautioned the people against voting for Modi, saying he was divisive and polarises people on religious and communal lines. With JD-S supremo and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda fighting to retain his Hassan seat for the sixth term and his son and former chief minister HD Kumarswamy trying his luck this time from Chikkaballapur, about 70 km from here, it will be interesting to see whose party AAP will spoil or damage most as it has fielded candidates for all 28 seats.
About 70% of the state's population of 63.9 million constitutes the electorate, with 23.5 million male and 22.6 million female voters. Other voters include 40,729 service voters. The electorate's profile also reveals the demographic divide across the state, as 50% (23 million) of them are below 40 years and 10.4 million of them in the 20-29 years age group, while first-time voters in the 18-19 years are around 1.6 million.
The Bangalore North constituency has the largest electorate - 2.39 million voters, while Udupi-Chickmagalur in the coastal area has the smallest number of voters - 1.39 million. Bangalore Central, however, has maximum number of candidates (25) in the fray while the Gulbarga reserved constituency has a minimum, five contestants.