Former prime minister H D Deve Gowda's JD-S, though projected to finish a distant third, is likely to play a crucial role in government formation in the event of a fractured mandate.
Meanwhile, the exit polls were divided over the party emerging as the single largest party in Karnataka. The Karnataka elections will act as a testing ground for Rahul Gandhi, as he looks to revive the ageing Congress party.
The polling took place for 222 seats in the state and the results will be out on 15 May.
The BJP's Chief Ministerial face B S Yeddyurappa was among the first to vote at Shikaripura in Shivamogga district. Muslims who form almost 13 per cent of the state's population are a crucial vote bank for the non-BJP outfits and many experts predicted that the Congress might have managed to swing the Muslim supporters of the JD (S) in its citadel of Old Mysuru region. For the BJP, they predicted 79-92, 87 and 79-92, respectively. The first sign of this transformation was in Punjab a year ago where Amrinder Singh emerged as the No.1 figure both before and after the party's electoral success.
Irrespective of the outcome of the Karnataka elections and notwithstanding Chief Minister Siddaramaiah's desire to retire after the polls, a feature of the contest in the southern state is his emergence as a major state-level leader. Journalist Ashutosh Mishra sarcastically wrote, "All day Campaigning for BJP as Modi being face, channel suddenly changed the face of BJP after exit polls data".
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In any case, exit poll figures indicate that HD Kumarswamy's JD (S) may emerge as the kingmaker.
According to Republic TV-Jan Ki Baat, BJP will win 95-114 seats, Congress 73-82 seats, JD (S) will win 32-43 seats while 2-3 seats will be bagged by others. The Gujarat exit polls weren't very long ago and the urban bias and other variables - including the size and quality of samples - can lead to errors. On one end of the spectrum were ABP News-C-Voter and NewsX-CNX exit polls which predicted big wins for the BJP but a hung Assembly still.
Axis My India exit poll forecast also tallied BJP near the majority mark with 111 seats, as Congress, in their prediction is at 85 seats. NDTV's "poll of exit polls" predicts that BJP would get 100 seats, followed by Congress (86), and JDS (33). It has given Congress 90-103 seats to Congress, 80-93 seats to BJP and 31-39 seats to JDS.
In response, Yeddyurappa, who addressed the media at his Dollars Colony residence on Sunday, said, "It is not me who is mentally disturbed but Siddaramaiah".
More than 49 million people were eligible to vote in Karnataka - the last major bastion of the Congress party.