All eyes will be riveted on eight Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, five seats in Bihar, three each in Bengal and Chhattisgarh, and two in Jammu and Kashmir, when 95 constituencies in 11 states and one UT go to polls on Thursday.
While Bengal is set to witness a four-cornered bitter fight on all seats, though mainly involving the Trinamool and the BJP, UP’s seats are in for close triangular in Mayawati’s core area, where the BJP had swept all in 2014.
In Bihar, four seats were won by the UPA, and the BJP-JD(U) combine will be straining to win them back.
The eight seats in UP represent the heartland of Dalits around the Braj region. With 85 candidates in the fray, the contest is evenly poised, with the caste arithmetic seemingly in favour of the SP-BSP-RLD alliance on at least four seats.
The BJP is banking on development, Modi magic and Jat-Lodh-non-Jatav consolidation in its favour, while Bollywood star power cannot be ignored on at least two seats, with the BJP’s Hema Malini in Mathura and Raj Babbar of Congress in Fatehpur Sikri adding to the interest.
In Chhattisgarh, the challenge on three seats—Kanker, Rajnandgaon and Mahasamund—is to ensure free, peaceful and credible polling owing to the presence of the outlawed CPI-Maoist. Adequate security measures and arrangements have been put in place across all sensitive and hypersensitive polling booths.
There are 36 candidates in the fray, their fate to be decided by over 49 lakh voters, mainly women, who outnumber men in Masasamund and Kanker.
In Bihar, where Banka, Bhagalpur, Katihar, Kishanganj and Purnia go to polls, the Muslim, SC/ST and OBC votes would have a major say. While Uday Kumar Singh, a royal, has been fielded in Purnia by the Congress, Kishanganj, with 64 per cent minority votes, has to choose between the JD(U), Congress and the AIMIM.
Katihar is where Tariq Anwar, an ex-NCP parliamentarian, has been fielded by the Congress, while at Banka, Putul Devi, the wife of Digvijay Singh, former minister of state for home, is in the field as a BJP rebel and can upset both the NDA and Mahagathbandhan.
Bhagalpur has a JD(U) candidate for the first time, leaving BJP cadres uninvolved. This is the Mahagathbandhan arc with four seats with the UPA group.
It is, however, three seats in north Bengal—Jalpaiguri (SC), Darjeeling and Raiganj—which are drawing attention, with the ruling Trinamool and the BJP being the main contenders, though the contest is four-cornered.
The poor condition of tea garden workers will play a major role in Jalpaiguri, while Darjeeling Hills is geared for a pitched battle between two Gurkha leaders, with development and restoration of democracy as their top poll planks.
In Raiganj Lok Sabha seat, TMC has nominated Kanhaiyalal Agarwal against Md Salim of CPI(M), Deepa Dasmunshi of Congress and Debashree Chowdhury of BJP.
The EC has deployed 194 companies of Central forces in the three constituencies to cover 80 per cent of the 5,390 booths for free and fair polling. In another first, VVPAT will be used in all polling booths along with the EVMs.
Apprehending violence, the EC has postponed polling for the Tripura East seat from April 18 to April 23. Voting in six other constituencies of the north-east, however, will be held as scheduled on April 18. The constituencies are Mangaldoi, Autonomous District (Diphu), Nagaon, Silchar, Karimganj (all in Assam) and Inner Manipur in Manipur.
The EC said the law and order situation in East Tripura constituency was not “conducive” for holding free and fair polls. The Congress and the BJP are the two key players in the six seats that will go to polls on Thursday. In Assam, the contest between the two parties is expected in Mangaldoi, Nagaon, Autonomous District and Silchar seats.
It will be a triangular fight among the BJP, Congress and the minority-based All India United Democratic Front in Karimganj. The Inner Manipur seat is bracing for a straight contest between the Congress and the BJP.
JAMMU & KASHMIR
In J& K, the interesting fight is in Srinagar, where Dr Farooq Abdullah is seeking re-election, besides Udhampur in Jammu. PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti and Peoples Conference chairman Sajjad Gani Lone have skipped campaigns in Srinagar in deference to Abdullah’s stature. Srinagar has traditionally remained a stronghold of NC.
Abdullah’s rivals include Aga Mohsin of PDP, Irfan Ansari of Peoples Conference and Khalid Jehangir of BJP, but none of them have been visible.
In Maharashtra, the emerging caste and community configurations in 10 seats going to polls have made for a close contest on all seats.
The constituencies to vote on April 18 include three in Vidarbha (Akola, Amravati and Buldhana); six in Marathwada—Hingoli, Nanded, Parbhani, Beed, Osmanabad and Latur; and one in western Maharashtra—Solapur. Of these, Amravati, Latur and Solapur are reserved for the Scheduled Caste category.
However, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi of Prakash Ambedkar is a force to reckon with and the prime challenger to the BJP-SS and Congress-NCP combines on some seats.
There are triangular fights in Akola and Solapur, both of which Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s grandson Advocate Prakash Ambedkar is contesting. In Solapur, his rivals are Congress’ 77-year-old Sushilkumar Shinde, and BJP’s Dr Jai Siddheshwar Shivacharya Mahaswami, a Lingayat seer.
(Inputs from Namita Bajpai, Ejaz Kaiser, Rajesh K Thakur, Pronab Mondal, Prasanta Mazumdar & Fayaz Wani)