New Delhi: While last time it was about political heavyweights battling for repute in their constituencies, the fourth phase of Lok Sabha election, constituting 72 parliamentary constituencies across nine states, will witness promising first-timers throwing down the gauntlet.
Campaigning for the fourth phase of polling came to an end on Saturday.
Polling will be held 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.
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 and Biju Janata Dal.
The fate of 961 candidates, including Union ministers Giriraj Singh, Subhash Bhamre, SS 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 this 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).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and a host of Union ministers among others canvassed for their party candidates over the past few days, undertaking whirlwind tours of the constituencies.
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.
During the canvassing, which mainly remained centred around issues such as nationalism and agricultural distress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to woo rural as well as urban voters by highlighting infrastructural and development work done under his rule.
For his part, Congress president Rahul Gandhi tried to project the Congress’ proposed minimum income guarantee scheme ‘NYAY’ as a game-changer for the poor.
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 election.
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 the seat.
The Congress has a good presence in at least three of the constituencies -- Unnao (Annu Tandon), Farrukhabad (Salman Khurshid) and Kanpur (Sriprakash Jaiswal).
In Odisha, electioneering had reached a feverish pitch for this phase as a galaxy of leaders from parties such as the BJP, Congress and the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) undertook tours of the constituencies, mostly in the coastal belt. This will be the final phase of polling in the state.
Prominent among the hopefuls include BJP national vice-president Baijayant Panda (Kendrapara) and state Congress president Niranjan Patnaik (Bhandaripokhari). 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.
Monday’s voting in three constituencies will be the first phase in the BJP-ruled Jharkhand. Addressing poll rallies in Jharkhand this week, a host of top BJP leaders, including Modi and Shah, appealed to the people to re-elect the NDA to take forward the development work and protect the country.
No prominent national-level leaders of opposition parties campaigned in the three seats — Lohardaga (ST), Chatra and Palamu (SC) — in the run-up to the election.
In West Bengal, all the eight seats, which are spread across four districts, will see a four-cornered contest between the Trinamool Congress, BJP, Congress and Left Front.
Electioneering in Kulgam district, which is part of Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency, remained by and large peaceful.
The constituency is spread over four districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama with 16 Assembly segments. The Lok Sabha election to this constituency is being held in three phases due to security reasons.
In all the six seats of Madhya Pradesh, a direct fight between the Congress and BJP is expected. Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s son Nakul is the Congress candidate from Chhindwara Lok Sabha seat.
The by-election to the Chhindwara Assembly constituency where Kamal Nath is in fray will also be held on Monday.
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.
In the first three phases, voting has been held in 302 Lok Sabha constituencies apart from Anantnag. Results will be declared on May 23.