A 70.23% voter turnout was recorded on Sunday in the high-stake Karnataka Assembly elections amid projections that the ruling BJP was on a slippery ground against a resurgent Congress.
The polling began on a brisk note at 7am and the turnout ebbed in the afternoon as the mercury soared before regaining momentum in the last hours in 223 seats in the 224-member House for which a total of 2,940 candidates were in the fray with a 4.35 crore-strong electorate eligible to vote.
Election in Periyapatna in Mysore district has been put off to May 28 following the death of the BJP candidate.
Briefing reporters, Karnataka chief electoral officer Anil Kumar Jha said a turn out of 63.09% was reported till 5pm.
"Going by the trend we saw in the evening hours, we are estimating it should reach 69%." Counting of votes will be taken up on May 8.
Prominent candidates included chief minister Jagadish Shettar, leader of Opposition in the Assembly Siddaramaiah, president of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee G Parameshwara, former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa and JDS state unit president HD Kumaraswamy.
Authorities had made elaborate security arrangements with 1.35 lakh police personnel on duty in some 52,000 polling booths where about 65,000 electronic voting machines had been installed.
With the Election Commission (EC) advancing commencement of polling by an hour to 7am, hundreds of voters made a beeline to booths in many of the 223 assembly constituencies to cast their vote through electronic voting machines (EVMs).
But in the first four hours of voting, polling was just about 15%.
The EC has also extended the duration of polling by an hour to 6pm, in view of the scorching summer heat across the state, including Bangalore.
Polling is being held for 223 of the state assembly's 224 elected seats.
One seat in the state assembly is reserved for a nominated member from the Ango-Indian community.
Voters check their names in the list near a polling booth during state assembly elections in Bangalore. AFP
"The voting process began on a peaceful note in all the 223 constituencies across the state under tight security. It started slowly and is picking up well," a poll official said nearly an hour after the exercise got underway.
"We have formed about 2,000 flying squads comprising five members each, including a photographer and a video-grapher to record the proceedings and ensure free and fair voting," the poll official said.
106-year-old seer of the Tumkur-based famed Siddaganga Mutt, Shivakumar Swamy, was among the early voters.
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 BS Yeddyurappa were among those who voted in the initial hours.
Congress workers clashed with supporters of independent candidate Vartur Prakash, also a minister in the BJP government, in Kolar and threatened to attack each other with knives. According to media reports, four people were arrested.
A tiff was reported 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, 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.
More than 4.35 crore people are eligible to exercise their franchise in the single phase poll.
People wait to cast their vote during the state assembly elections in Hubli. UNI
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.
Congress has pulled out all the stops to return to power in a complex battle after more than an eight year long gap.
The ruling BJP, its main opponent Congress and JDS of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda are the key players, but the presence of Karnataka Janatha Party 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.
Karnataka CM Jagadish Shettar at a polling booth during the state assembly elections in Hubli. UNI
JDS 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 "king maker" in the event of a fractured mandate.
The poll fate of nearly 3,000 candidates would be sealed on Sunday.
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% 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%.
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.
Karnataka chief electoral officer Anil Kumar Jha said recently the endeavour is to take it to 75%.
"I am very happy with the arrangements made by the Election Commission, the way in which they have enlightened the people about the need for voting and I am hoping for a better voting in the election, improved voter percentage", Naidu, a Rajya Sabha member from Karnataka, told reporters.
In the 2008 elections to the total of 224 seats, BJP, with 33.86% of the votes polled, secured 110 seats, followed by Congress (34.59) with 80 seats and JDS (19.13) with 28 seats.
While the overall voter turnout was 64.91% in the 2008 elections, the average in the 28 segments of Bengaluru was a low 47.3%. The lowest in Bengaluru was in Sarvajnanagar at 35.40%.
Polling in Bengaluru Urban areas was 52% "or so" till 5pm on Sunday which, Jha noted, was better than the 2008 figure.
Congress workers, supporters of independent candidate clash in Kolar
Police have arrested four persons who were openly wielding swords in the district headquarters town of Kolar, adding that a major clash was averted between supporters of an independent and a political party.
At Sidlagatta in Chikkaballapura district, one person was injured seriously by supporters of another party. In a Bellary booth, a voter was allegedly hit by a policeman over a trivial issue and sustained injuries in the ear.
Voters resorted to Twitter to report the clash and voice their opinions
Additional director general of police (Law and Order) Bipin Gopalakrishna confirmed the incident and said the police had acted immediately and arrested three persons.
Villages of Poguru and Karikatte villages in Khanapur taluk threatened to boycott the voting as their request to shift their villages, having around 1000 votes each, to Kittur segment was not met. Officials rushed to the village to pacify them.
In a polling station in Honnavar in Uttara Kannada district, poll officer MC Mahendra died soon after the voting began, due to cardiac arrest. An alternative officer was immediately appointed, official sources said.
A voter died, identified as Mahadeva Shetty, also died due to cardiac arrest in Ramasamudra village in Chamarajanagar district.
In Honnali, Davangere district, minister Renukacharya and his wife came together to the booth and stood together while they voted. Neither the minister nor the officials seemed to be aware that it was a violation of election code for two persons to vote together.
Bangalore central Lok Sabha BJP member PC Mohan, who is also contesting in the assembly polls when his, wife's name was missing. Several other such cases of missing names from voters' list was reported from different parts of the state.
Blind voters who in the past used to take the help of a second person to cast their votes, had for the first time voted independently using Braille voting machines.
(With inputs IANS and PTI, UNI)