Karnataka: India state votes in bitterly contested poll.
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Karnataka: India state votes in bitterly contested poll.

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BJP supporters take part in an election campaign rally held in Bangalore on May 3, 2018.

Voting has begun in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, in a bitterly contested election.

More than 49 million people are eligible to vote for the state’s 224 assembly seats.

The poll is significant for both India’s major parties ahead of general elections next year.

The state is the last major bastion of the opposition Congress party, which India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to break into.

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

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More than 55,000 polling stations have been set up in the state including 600 “pink booths” where all volunteers are women.

The results of the election will be announced on 15 May.

Why is the election important?

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

Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, have travelled across the state, addressing huge rallies.

Voters show their voter's identity card as they wait in a queue to cast their vote for the Karnataka state election outside a polling booth in Bangalore on 10 May 2008.

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 K Siddaramaiah, who is running for re-election. He led his party to a huge victory in 2013, winning 121 of the 224 seats.

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

Karnataka chief minister K Siddaramaiah arrives to attend a Congress party meeting in New Delhi on 27 December 2013.

BS Yeddyurappa, the BJP’s candidate, is 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.

BJP MP B S Yeddyurappa arrives at parliament in New Delhi on 20 May 2014.

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

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

What are the key poll issues?

The powerful Lingayat community, a Hindu sect that comprises 17% of the state’s population, is 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.

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