PM Modi’s Bid to Retain Varanasi and Patna Sahib’s Fiery Contest: All Eyes on Final Phase of Lok Sabha Polls
New Delhi: The seven-phase Lok Sabha elections, one of the most bitterly fought in recent memory, will come to a close on Sunday when polling will be held in 59 constituencies in seven states and a Union Territory. More than 10.01 crore voters are expected to decide the fate of 918 candidates, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose Varanasi constituency will also vote in the final phase.
The high-voltage campaign for the final phase saw poll meetings by Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Congress leader Sachin Pilot and West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress President Mamata Banerjee.
Polling will be held in all 13 seats in Punjab and an equal number in Uttar Pradesh, nine in West Bengal, eight seats each in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, four in Himachal Pradesh, three in Jharkhand and the lone seat in Chandigarh. The Election Commission has set up more than 1.12 lakh polling stations for the smooth conduct of polls.
An average voter turnout of 66.88% was recorded in the last six phases. Overall, the elections spanned 38 days.
In Uttar Pradesh, all eyes will be on Varanasi where Modi and 25 other candidates are in the fray. The Congress party's Ajay Rai and SP-BSP grand alliance's nominee Shalini Yadav are the main challengers to Modi. Union minister Manoj Sinha and Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Mahendra Nath Pandey will also seek re-election from Ghazipur and Chandauli, respectively.
The BJP is contesting 11 Lok Sabha seats in this phase, while its ally Apna Dal (Sonelal) is contesting Mirzapur, currently held by Union minister Anupriya Patel, and Robertsganj.
SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal and union ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri are among the 278 candidates including 24 women whose fate will be decided in Punjab on Sunday.
Besides Punjab, more than six lakh voters in Chandigarh will choose between sitting MP and BJP candidate Kirron Kher and former railway minister and Congress candidate Pawan Kumar Bansal.
Actor-turned-politician Sunny Deol who recently joined the BJP, Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, Aam Aadmi Party's Punjab unit chief Bhagwant Mann are among other prominent candidates in the fray.
In most of the 13 seats in the state, the contest appears to be a straight contest between the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance.
A conglomeration of several political outfits, the Punjab Democratic Alliance (PDA) led by AAP rebel Sukhpal Singh Khaira, is also contesting on all 13 seats while SAD (Taksali), a breakaway faction of SAD, has fielded one candidate from Anandpur Sahib.
In 2014, the AAP and the SAD had won four seats each, the Congress three and the BJP two.
The fate of 111 candidates in nine seats of West Bengal — Kolkata North and Kolkata South, Dum Dum, Barasat, Basirhat, Jadavpur, Diamond Harbour, Jaynagar (SC) and Mathurapur (SC) — will also be sealed. The nine constituencies are spread across the three districts of Kolkata, South and North 24 Parganas.
Eight seats, barring Jadavpur, will witness a contest among the Trinamool Congress, BJP, Congress and the Left Front. The Congress has given the Jadavpur seat a miss.
On May 14, Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata was marred by violence and destruction of noted reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's bust in a college in north Kolkata. This action led to the EC curtailing campaigning in the nine West Bengal constituencies, in a first such action in the country’s electoral history.
Four Union ministers — Ravi Shankar Prasad, Ram Kripal Yadav, RK Singh and Ashwini Kumar Choubey — are among the 157 candidates in Bihar. Seven of the seats in the state were won by the NDA last time, five by the BJP and two by the RLSP, which has now joined forces with the "mahagathbandhan". One seat was bagged by the JD(U) headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, which then fought separately but is now back with the NDA.
The most keenly-watched contest is in Patna Sahib where Prasad, one of the most prominent members of the Modi cabinet, is seeking entry into the Lok Sabha. He is pitted against actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha who won it on both occasions for the BJP and is now contesting as the Congress candidate.
The electoral fortunes of 42 candidates in Jharkhand, including that of former chief minister and Union minister Shibu Soren, will also be decided on Sunday. Soren, the chief of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and a eighth-term sitting MP is fighting from Dumka seat once again and will be up against BJP's Sunil Soren. The JMM leader had defeated his BJP challenger twice in 2009 and 2014.
Dewas, Ujjain, Mandsaur, Ratlam, Dhar, Indore, Khargone and Khandwa seats in Madhya Pradesh, all currently held by the BJP, will also go to polls. Former Union ministers Kantilal Bhuria, Arun Yadav are in the fray from Ratlam and Khandwa, the latter seeing a tough fight between Yadav and ex-MP BJP chief Nandkumar Singh Chauhan.
Polling will also be held in all four Lok Sabha constituencies in Himachal Pradesh where as many as 45 candidates, including five legislators, are in the fray.
On Sunday, a bypoll will be held in Panaji in Goa that was necessitated due to the death of former chief minister Manohar Parrikar in March. Bye-elections will also be held in four assembly constituencies of Tamil Nadu — Sulur, Aravakurichi, Ottapidaram (SC) and Thiruparankundram — and in Bihar’s Dehri Assembly seat.
Counting of votes will be taken up on May 23.
(With inputs from PTI)