Polling is being held for the fourth phase of Lok Sabha election in 72 parliamentary constituencies spread across nine states.
The stakes are high for the ruling BJP and its allies as it had swept 56 of these seats in 2014, leaving just two for the Congress and the rest for other opposition parties such as the Trinamool Congress (six) and the Biju Janata Dal (six).
Voting is taking place in 17 seats in Maharashtra, 13 each in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, eight in West Bengal, six each in Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, five in Bihar, three in Jharkhand and a part of the Anantnag constituency in Jammu and Kashmir.
Election in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP had cornered all but two of the total 54 seats in 2014, begins in this phase. The Congress appeared to make a comeback, forming the governments in the states after last year’s Assembly polls.
In the first three phases, voting has been held in 302 Lok Sabha constituencies, and 168 more seats will go to polls in the last three phases.
The fate of 961 candidates, including Union ministers Giriraj Singh, Subhash Bhamre, S S Ahluwalia and Babul Supriyo of the BJP and former Union ministers Salman Khurshid and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of the Congress, will be decided by about 12.79 core voters in the fourth phase.
Among other key contestants in the fray are Kanhaiya Kumar (CPI), Baijayant Panda (BJP), Urmila Matondkar (Congress), Dimple Yadav (Samajwadi Party), Satabdi Roy (TMC) and Milind Deora (Congress).
The Election Commission has set up 1.40 lakh polling booths/stations and has made elaborate security arrangements.
In Maharashtra, where election will come to end with this phase, the opposition Congress is facing a tough task of reclaiming its lost base in north Maharashtra and Mumbai, while the NCP is trying to get a foothold in Thane district and Western Maharashtra. The BJP and its ally Shiv Sena had won all 17 seats in 2014.
Union minister Subhash Bhamre, and Congress leaders Milind Deora and Urmila Matondkar are among the 323 candidates in the fray in this phase.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s son, a member of erstwhile Jaipur royal family and two Union ministers are among 115 candidates whose fate will be decided on Monday.
Jodhpur became one of the most talked about seats in the Congress ruled state where Gehlot did massive campaigning for his son Vaibhav, pitted against sitting MP and Union minister of state Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.
In Rajasthan, where the BJP had won all the seats in 2014, the Congress appeared to make a comeback, forming the government in the state with a narrow majority after last year’s Assembly polls.
In Uttar Pradesh, most of these 13 seats are seeing a direct fight between the BJP and SP-BSP alliance with Kannauj being a matter of prestige for the SP.
In 2014, the BJP won 12 of these 13 seats in the state. Only Kannauj, won by the Samajwadi Party, defied the Modi wave that year among them. Former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s wife Dimple is seeking re-election from Kannauj.
The Congress has a good presence in at least three of the constituencies — Unnao (Annu Tandon), Farrukhabad (Salman Khurshid) and Kanpur (Sriprakash Jaiswal).
In West Bengal, all the eight seats, which are spread across four districts, will see a four-cornered contest between Trinamool Congress, BJP, Congress and the Left Front.
In Odisha, where the state’s ruling BJD won all six seats, the BJP is making concerted efforts to bag a few seats.
Prominent among the hopefuls include BJP national vice-president Baijayant Panda (Kendrapara), who quit the BJD to join the party recently. Polling will also be held in 41 assembly seats in Odisha in this phase.
In Bihar, the BJP and its allies are looking to retain all the five seats in the face of a spirited fight put up by the RJD-Congress alliance.
The cynosure of all eyes in this phase, however, is the Begusarai seat which will witness an electrifying contest between the political Left and the Right with CPI debutant Kanhaiya Kumar taking on firebrand BJP leader Giriraj Singh.
In all the six seats in Madhya Pradesh, a direct fight between the Congress and the BJP is on the cards. The state’s new power centre is witnessing a unique father-son electoral show with Chief Minister Kamal Nath and his son Nakul in the fray, hoping to boost not just the Congress but also strike roots as deep as the tree from where this region takes its name.
While the chief minister, a nine-time MP from the area, is contesting an assembly bypoll, Nakul Nath is hoping to get elected to the Lok Sabha from Chhindwara, named after the wild date palm tree known as Chhind.
Over 45.26 lakh voters will decide the fate of 59 candidates in the first phase of polls for three Lok Sabha constituencies in Jharkhand.
Union Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Sudarshan Bhagat is seeking re-election from the Lohardaga(ST) seat.
Polling is also being held in Kulgam district, which is part of Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency. Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency is spread over four districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama with 16 assembly segments. The Lok Sabha polls to this constituency are being held in three phases due to security reasons.
Election to 542 Lok Sabha seats is being conducted in seven phases between April 11 and May 19. Election in Vellore constituency in Tamil Nadu has been cancelled following excess use of money power. Results will be declared on May 23.