India’s BJP pulls ahead in crucial Karnataka state poll

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BJP supporters take part in an election campaign rally held in Bangalore on May 3, 2018. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The election is especially significant for Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Election leads from the south Indian state of Karnataka show India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is ahead of the Congress party which currently rules the state.

The BJP is ahead in 102 of 195 seats for which leads are available, according to the Election Commission.

The party needs to win in 112 seats if it is to form the government.

The Congress is leading in 53 seats, while the regional Janata Dal (Secular), is ahead in 37 seats.

More than 72% of the voters cast their ballots for 193 seats on Saturday.

Counting of votes began early Tuesday morning. The final verdict is expected later in the day.

Karnataka is the hub of India’s information technology industry and has a population of 64 million.

Why is the election important?

The polls in Karnataka are being treated as a bellwether ahead of scheduled national elections in 2019.

Both Mr Modi and Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, travelled across the state, addressing huge rallies.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The polls in Karnataka are being seen as a bellwether for the 2019 national elections

Analysts believe that a loss in this election would spell disaster for the Congress party, which rules only three other states apart from Karnataka.

The BJP and its allies are in power in 22 of India’s 29 states.

However, this is also a crucial election for the BJP, which has won in Karnataka only once before. The party has a limited presence in the four other southern states, where it is unlikely to contest an election without a regional ally.

Who are the key players?

The Congress’ candidate is Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah, who is running for re-election. He led his party to a huge victory in 2013, winning 121.

“We are going to secure 120 plus seats (in the 224-member assembly),” Mr Siddaramaiah told BBC Hindi’s Imran Qureshi before the poll. “I am 100% confident because I am the chief minister.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Karnataka chief minister K Siddaramaiah is running for re-election

BS Yeddyurappa, the BJP’s candidate, was equally confident of winning – “There is no doubt that I will be sworn in as chief minister on May 17,” he told BBC Hindi.

He led the BJP to power the first time they won in Karnataka in 2008 and served as chief minister.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa is the BJP’s candidate in the polls

The Janata Dal (Secular), a key regional party that has given the state two chief ministers in the past, could emerge as an important player after the poll.

The party is led by HD Deve Gowda, who was the prime minister of India from 1994 to 1996.

What were the key poll issues?

The powerful Lingayat community, a Hindu sect that comprises 17% of the state’s population, was expected to play a decisive role in the elections.

It has traditionally voted for the BJP but that might change this time. A section of the community has been demanding that the sect be identified as a separate religion, distinct from Hinduism.

Mr Siddaramaiah’s administration has declared the community a separate religion and expects to split their vote as a result.

The chief minister has also taken controversial decisions such as proposing a flag for the state and emphasising the use of the local Kannada language.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi campaigned heavily in Karnataka

Apart from the state’s water crisis and lawlessness, corruption is also a key issue.

Mr Yeddyurappa himself resigned from his post as chief minister in 2012 amid allegations that he abused his power.

An anti-corruption report in 2011 had indicted him in a mining scandal that cost the exchequer more than $3bn (£2.2bn).

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