BHOPAL/LUCKNOW/AHMEDABAD: Campaigning ended on Sunday for by-elections to 54 assembly constituencies in 10 states including 28 seats in Madhya Pradesh where the high-stake contest that will decide the fate of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government saw the parties launching vitriolic attacks against each other.
There was hectic canvassing for the Tuesday by-elections in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Election Commission (EC) restricting the number of star campaigners and issuing strict guidelines for gatherings.
The main contenders, BJP and Congress, traded barbs especially in Madhya Pradesh where the EC had to reprimand leaders of both the parties and even revoked the star campaigner status of former chief minister Kamal Nath, who challenged it in the Supreme Court.
In over 30 seats in MP, Gujarat and Karnataka, the BJP has fielded former Congress MLAs who quit to join the saffron party.
The BJP, which has a comfortable majority in the UP Assembly, is locked in a battle of prestige on seven seats, with the opposition taking on the Yogi Adityanath government on the law and order issue.
The issue of 'love jihad' has also been raked up during the campaigning with the UP and Haryana governments announcing plans to bring a law against it.
In Gujarat, the bypolls are being held in eight seats after the Congress MLAs resigned.
Five of them later joined the ruling BJP and are contesting again.
Assembly bypolls will also be held in Chhattisgarh (1 seat), Haryana (1), Jharkhand (2), Karnataka (2), Nagaland (2), Odisha (2) and Telangana (1).
Chief Minister Chouhan and Rajya Sabha member Jyotiraditya Scindia, whose move to desert the Congress along with his supporters resulted in the fall of the Kamal Nath government, led the efforts to drum up support for the BJP nominees in MP.
MP Congress president Kamal Nath and party veteran Digvijaya Singh crisscrossed the state to woo the voters as party leaders targeted the rebel MLAs and Scindia, calling them 'gaddar' (traitor).
By-elections are being held in 25 seats in MP as sitting Congress MLAs resigned and joined the BJP.
They are now in the fray as BJP candidates, while in three other seats the by-election was necessitated due to the demise of the sitting legislators.
For the first time in the history of the state, 28 Assembly seats in the 230-member House are going to bypolls in one go.
A total of 355 candidates, including 12 state ministers, are in the fray.
The ruling BJP currently has 107 MLAs and needs nine more seats for a majority, while the Congress has 87 legislators in the House The EC acted againt Kamal Nath for his remarks against Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
The EC had also asked Nath not to use words like "item" in campaigning after his jibe at state minister and BJP candidate Imarti Devi at a rally.
Imarti was herself barred from campaigning on the last day for her objectionable utterances.
In most of the seats, there is a direct fight between the BJP and Congress, while in two or three seats of Gwalior Chambal region, a triangular contest is on the cards in the wake of the BSP's presence there, political observers said.
In Uttar Pradesh, of the seven seats going to the polls on Tuesday, six were held by the BJP and one by the Samajwadi Party.
The state government faced criticism over the law and order situation, particularly after the Hathras and Balrampur rape and murder cases.
In the run-up to the bypolls, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Saturday said his government will bring a law to deal with 'love jihad', a derogatory coinage referring to the alleged campaign of Muslims forcing Hindu girls to convert for marriage.
UP Congress chief Ajay Kumar Lallu said that the BJP government has failed on all fronts and asserted that the public has decided to teach the ruling party a lesson.
"This will be visible in the bypolls. It will mark the commencement of the decline of the BJP and the Congress will be victorious," he said Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati too on Sunday appealed to voters to vote for her party candidates and send a political message to rivals.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala held joint public meetings in the Baroda assembly constituency and urged people to vote for BJP-JJP candidate Yogeshwar Dutt.
In Gujarat, both the major political parties- the ruling BJP as well as the opposition Congress- were claiming to make a clean sweep.
For the BJP, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, state unit chief C R Patil, Union ministers Smriti Irani, Mansukh Mandaviya and Purshottam Rupala campaigned.
The Congress' campaign workload was shared by state working president Hardik Patel, who toured all eight seats extensively, and Amit Chavda, Paresh Dhanani, Arjun Modhwadiya, Siddharth Patel, Tushar Chaudhry and Manish Doshi.
During campaigning, Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa announced that the BJP candidate in RR Nagar, Munirathna, would be made a minister "soon after he wins".
Congress state chief D K Shivakumar flayed the announcement, claiming it was a violation of the model code of conduct.
The RR Nagar by-election has become a prestigious battle with all three political parties -- BJP, Congress and JD(S)-- fighting it out intensely.
The election was warranted as Munirathna, a former Congress MLA, resigned from the assembly last year and joined the BJP.
The Congress has fielded former IAS officer late D K Ravi's wife and senior leader Hanumantharayappa's daughter H Kusuma, while the JD(S) has fielded V Krishnamurthy.
In Sira Assembly seat in Tumakuru district, Chief Minister Yediyurappa and his predecessor H D Kumaraswamy held rallies in the Vokkaliga heartland.
The by-election was necessitated following the death of JDS MLA B.Satyanarayana.
In Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren's home turf Dumka, his younger brother Basant Soren is pitted against former cabinet minister Lois Marandi of the BJP.
It is expected to be a straight fight between BJP's Yogeshwar Mahato and Anup Singh of the Congress in Bermo seat in Bokaro district A sedition case was registered in Dumka against Jharkhand BJP chief and Rajya Sabha MP Deepak Prakash on Saturday for allegedly trying to destabilise the JMM-Congress-RJD government in the state, police said.
The BJP leader had on Friday said in a press conference that the saffron party will form the government in the state in the next two-three months.
Prakash alleged the state government is taking "provocative illegal action" as it's frustrated sensing its imminent defeat in the bypolls.