Battle lines have been drawn among key contenders, the Congress, BJP and JDS, in Karnataka as the state goes to the first phase of polls on May 10 in 89 assembly segments out of the 224 constituencies.
Congress and BJP, who seem to be the front runners in the three phased polls, have to contend with the JDS. Meanwhile JDS supremo, former prime minister H D Devegowda has been burning the night oil to repeat his party's 2004 performance to force another fractured verdict.
Another party that can play spoilsport is BSP as its leader and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati is striving to ensure that her party makes an impact in the south by announcing candidates for all the 224 constituencies in Karnataka.
While the JDS has witnessed a spate of desertions, the Congress and BJP are facing rebellion from some leaders reportedly upset over denial of ticket to contest the polls.
On the poll preparation front, it is BJP that leads its rivals as it has already announced candidates for the 224 seats and released its manifesto promising a slew of freebies including free power supply to farmers, irrigation pump sets and distribution of rice at Rs two per kg to poor.
The Congress has also released highlights of its manifesto promising free colour TVs and rice at Rs two per kg to pre-empt BJP. CPI-M, AIADMK, SP and Unified Farmers Outfit-Sarvodaya party have also thrown their hat into the ring but they are not likely to make much of an impact.
Gowda's recent statement that "no political party in the state can form a government without the support of JDS," has come in for criticism from his former coalition partners Congress and BJP who are focusing on stability as poll plank and orchestrating for single party rule.
Both BJP and Congress have been luring JDS front ranking leaders reportedly frustrated over the domination of the former prime minister and his family members in party affairs and agitated over the party not honouring its power-sharing pact with BJP.
The BJP government led by B S Yedyurappa fell within a week after the JDS withdrew support in November last leading to president's rule in Karnataka.
Prominent Lingayat leader M P Prakash and his followers, Vokkaliga strongmen like B N Bacchegowda, G T Devegowda and leaders like H C Mahadevappa and others have already quit the JDS. The exodus of JDS leaders that began with G T Devegowda, a prominent Vokkaliga leader from Mysore who joined BJP, ended with Prakash who led a majority of leaders from old Mysore, Central and North Karnataka into Congress.
More than half of the 58 JDS MLAs of the dissolved assembly, have crossed over either to BJP and Congress, plunging the party into a crisis.
The Congress has still not announced candidates for all the seats in the face of widespread protests by ticket aspirants and the party's election manifesto committee chairman C K Jaffer Sharief is reportedly upset over denial of ticket to his grandson. Besides battling to rein in its rebel candidates, Congress is now trying to mollify Sharief.
Only the coming days will demonstrate how Congress and BJP will handle their problem of "plenty" and manage the disgruntled elements. The eleven districts of old Mysore areas that go to election in the first phase are crucial for all political parties, who are bidding for power.
It was this region that returned 34 JDS MLAs in the 2004 election, putting the party in the driver's seat as against 27 by Congress and 12 by BJP in the 2004 polls.
As Devegowda is making all out efforts to prove his strength in this Vokkaliga community dominated belt, the Congress has already engaged former Chief Minister S M Krishna to take on the JDS.
Krishna, who relinquished governorship of Maharastra, however, has opted out of the poll fray, which has not gone down well among his supporters.
The Congress is also resting hopes on former Deputy Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, a former JDS leader and bitter foe of Gowda, to enlarge its vote share in old Mysore sector while Gowda is banking on the charisma of his son, former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy.
With some Congress and JDS leaders joining it, BJP is leaving no stone unturned to ensure its return to power.
On its part, BSP has roped in some important leaders like P G R Sindhya Parimala Nagappa and D T Jayakumar (all former JDS leaders).
However, BSP lost its founder, B Gopal, who had been credited with building the party in the state, the SC leader has joined Congress after being removed from the post of state president by Mayawati.
It was BSP that threw a spanner into the wheels of Congress in the 2004 polls that threw up a fractured verdict as the "elephant" (party's symbol) blocked victory of at least 32 congress nominees. In the 2004 polls, BJP won 79 seats, Congress 65 and JDS 58.
A total of 1,72,88,358 voters in the districts of Tumkur, Chikkaballapur, Kolar, Bangalore Urban, Bangalore Rural, Ramanagara, Mandya, Hassan, Kodagu, Mysore and Chamarajnagar are eligible to exercise their franchise in the first phase.
Karnataka is the first state to go the polls under the new delimitation of constituencies in the country. The second and third phase of election will be held on May 16 and 22 and counting of votes on May 25.