Karnataka’s voters set a record of sorts onMay 10 when their turnout surpassed the polling percentage of 2018. Provisional data shared by the Election Commission of India (ECI) showed that Karnataka witnessed a voter turnout of 72.81 per cent, the highest since 1957. The voting percentage reached 72.13 per cent in 2018. The ECI added a caveat that this figure was “provisional” because it does not include data on postal ballot voting. In conventional political analysis, a high turnout is indicative that the electorate is keen to change the incumbent government, whereas a low voter turnout shows the indecisiveness of the voter.
However, the voting pattern in Karnataka does not lend support to this theory since, irrespective of the voter turnout, the State has not given a decisive mandate to any political party since 1985. This time around, though, if exit poll data can be believed, the Congress is set to make a comeback in Karnataka, although there is a chance that there could be a hung assembly with the Congress emerging as the single largest party.
In 2018, Karnataka gave a classic fractured mandate when the BJP emerged as the single largest party but nine seats short of the magic number of 113. Karnataka’s voters polled 71.45 per cent in 2013, which was supposed to be a vote against the five-year rule of the BJP as the saffron party’s tenure was unstable during which time three Chief Ministers helmed the State against the background of mining scandals. Things were different in 2008 when Karnataka witnessed a voter turnout of 64.68 per cent in which the electorate voted to give the BJP 110 out of the 224 seats. While the BJP failed to achieve a simple majority at the time, the sense was that voters were tired of successive coalition governments that were in power between 2004 and 2008.
In keeping with past voter turnout data, Bengaluru Urban district again recorded the lowest voting percentage in the State this time around as well, with only 56.98 per cent of the residents of the city stepping out to vote. This was almost the same as 2018 when 57 per cent of Bengalureans voted. This apathy was displayed despite several citizen activist groups and Residential Welfare Associations (RWAs) organising spirited awareness campaigns in the city. A few restaurants even went to the extent of offering free meals to voters who displayed their inked fingers.
Melukote in Mandya district recorded the highest turnout at 90.93 per cent, and Hosakote on the outskirts of Bengaluru followed closely with a turnout of 90.9 per cent. The lowest voting percentage was seen in the constituencies of Bengaluru city, with C. V. Raman Nagar recording an abysmal voting percentage of 47.43 per cent. As many as 27 of the 31 districts in the State recorded over 70 per cent polling, as against 24 out of 30 in 2018. Ten of these districts recorded a turnout of over 80 per cent, compared with nine previously.
Most of the major politicians in Karnataka cast their votes early on May 10 after a visit to a local temple. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai voted in his hometown of Shiggaon, where he is also contesting from, after visiting a Hanuman temple and appealed to the people to “come out and vote for the development of the State”. Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah cast his vote in Varuna constituency, where he is pitted in a keen contest against BJP Minister V. Somanna.
D.K. Shivakumar, president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee and one of the richest politicians in the country, drew attention when he arrived in an auto-rickshaw to vote in his constituency of Kanakapura, where his main rival is BJP Minister R. Ashoka. Former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, who has retired from electoral politics, voted in his constituency of Shikaripura, where his son and political heir, B.Y. Vijayendra, is contesting in his stead. JD(S) leader and former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy cast his vote for the Assembly election at a polling booth in the family bastion of Ramanagara, where his son, Nikhil Kumaraswamy, is contesting. The seat has been represented by his grandfather (former Prime Minister H.D. Devegowda), father, and mother at different times over the past 35 years.
A unique aspect of the electorate’s behaviour in Karnataka historically is that it has chosen to reject the ruling government, notwithstanding the voter turnout. Thus, while the voter turnout itself is not indicative of any advantage or disadvantage to the three main parties in the fray, it is a clear barometer of people’s investment in the political process. The ECI also chose to schedule the election on a weekday this time, contrary to the past few elections when they were held over the weekend. This experiment led to a slight increase in the polling percentage.