Karnataka: Tumkur's 106-yr-old seer among early voters

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Bangalore, May 5: Polling for the Karnataka Assembly elections began on a strong note on Sunday with a voter turnout of an estimated 15 to 20 per cent in the first three hours.

106-year-old seer of the Tumkur-based famed Siddaganga Mutt, Shivakumar Swamy, was among the early voters.

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Senior BJP leader M Venkaiah Naidu, Union Ministers M Mallikarjuna Kharge and M Veerappa Moily, Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee President G Parameshwara, BJP State unit President Prahlad Joshi, and Karnataka Janatha Paksha supremo B S Yeddyurappa were among those who voted in the initial hours.

Barring a tiff between a voter and an on-duty policeman in a Bellary booth with the former sustaining minor injuries leading to protests by a section of electorate there, polling was so far peaceful, sources said.

At a couple of places, including in Mahadevapura segment in the city, polling was delayed by a few minutes following malfunctioning of electronic voting machines.

Sources in the Election Commission estimated the poll percentage by 10 am to be in the region of 15-20 per cent. Polling has been extended by an hour and will take place till 6 pm. Authorities have made elaborate security arrangements for peaceful and smooth conduct of polls, which commenced at 7 am.

Enthusiasm of voters was particularly evident in the city, with techies working in the information technology sector going out in large numbers to elect their representatives.

After two weeks of campaigning, marked by high voltage verbal jousting between top Congress and BJP leaders, the fate of 4,120 odd candidates who filed nominations in the 223 constituencies of the Karnataka assembly will be decided by the 4.30 crore electorate in the state on Sunday.

The polls come against the backdrop of a strong anti-incumbency undercurrent against the BJP, which emerged the single largest party in the 2008 polls before consolidating its position with the support of Independents and poaching of MLAs from the Congress and JD(S).

The campaign over the past fortnight has seen the Congress bringing in leaders of every size and stature to push the party towards a victory that it has been scenting since March when after five years of insipid electoral performances the party landed a huge bounty in urban local bodies.

The front end of the Congress campaign was brought up by the likes of Sonia Gandhi, PM Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi while film stars and cricketers like Chiranjeevi, Ramya and Mohammed Azharuddin campaigned in places where they hold sway.

The thrust of the Congress campaign was the misgovernance and corruption under the BJP rule. The changing of three BJP chief ministers, the arrest of one, the loot of iron ore by some ministers were all centerstage in the Congress campaign as the party sought votes from the electorate on the grounds of providing good governance, stability and development.

Behind the scenes, the Congress strategy has involved reliance on a new regional party floated by former BJP chief minister B S Yeddyurappa splitting the BJP's Lingayat vote base in north Karnataka while the Congress consolidates its traditional vote base of OBCs, SC/ST and minorities.

The Congress is seen as being on a sticky wicket in the Vokkaliga belt in south Karnataka, where it battles the JD(S) of former prime minister H D Deve Gowda in many constituencies, on account of internal differences.

The BJP has been fighting the polls with its back to the wall and has at many stages seemed resigned to fate. To some extent a three-city blitzkrieg by Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, despite many believing it to be too little, too late, has helped revive the cadre. Bereft of local issues to address voters with, Modi attacked Sonia, Rahul and the PM and raised issues like price rise and UPA corruption.

The JDS is tipped to improve its numbers from the 28 seats it won in 2008. The majority of pre-poll surveys have shown the Congress squeaking past the majority mark of 113 seats. Some polls, however, show it falling short, thus bringing other parties into play.

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 BJP candidate.

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 poll fate of nearly 3,000 candidates would be sealed today. Prominent among them are Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar, Opposition Congress leader Siddaramiah, Yeddyurappa, KPCC President G Parameshwara, Deputy Chief Minsiters K S 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 JDS 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.

The results will be announced on May 8.

PTI

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