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Indians Vote in Bitterly Contested Poll

Indians Vote in Bitterly Contested PollIndians Vote in Bitterly Contested Poll

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, BBC reported.

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

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 May 15.

***Bellwether

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 traveled across the state, addressing huge rallies.

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.

***Key Players

The Congress' candidate is Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah, who is running for reelection. 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]," Siddaramaiah told BBC Hindi's Imran Qureshi. "I am 100% confident because I am the chief minister."

The Janata Dal, 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.

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