New Delhi: Spread over 38 days, the hotly-contested marathon Lok Sabha elections will come to a close on Sunday, when 59 constituencies across eight states will go to polls in the seventh phase, including in Varanasi, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking re-election.
Polling will be held in all 13 seats of Punjab and four of Himachal Pradesh. Besides, elections will also be held in 13 seats in Uttar Pradesh, nine in West Bengal, eight seats each in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, three in Jharkhand and the lone seat in Chandigarh. Moreover, bye-elections will be held in Panaji, necessitated due to the death of former chief minister Manohar Parrikar, and in four assembly constituencies of Tamil Nadu — Sulur, Aravakurichi, Ottapidaram (SC) and Thiruparankundram.
Out of the 59 seats going to polls on Sunday, BJP had won 30 while the TMC had bagged all the nine seats.
In Uttar Pradesh, all eyes will be on the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat, where PM Modi had defeated his nearest rival AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal by a record 3.7 lakh votes in the 2014 elections. This time, Modi’s main challengers are Congress’s Ajay Rai and SP-BSP grand alliance’s nominee Shalini Yadav.
Union minister Manoj Sinha, Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Mahendra Nath Pandey are seeking re-election from Ghazipur and Chandauli, respectively. While BJP is contesting 11 Lok Sabha seats in this phase, its ally Apna Dal (Sonelal) is contesting Mirzapur, currently held by Union minister Anupriya Patel, and Robertsganj.
Besides Varanasi, another seat that will be closely watched will be Gorakhpur, which was wrested by the SP-BSP alliance in bypolls last year. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who has won the seat every time since 1998, has campaigned aggressively in Gorakhpur, where BJP has fielded actor-turned-politician Ravi Kishan Shukla.
Local issues dominate Punjab poll discourse
SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, Union ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri, Sunny Deol, Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar and AAP leader Bhagwant Mann are among the important candidates in fray in Punjab.
While the Congress is fighting the polls alone, the SAD has fielded candidates in 10 seats and left Gurdaspur, Amritsar and Hoshiarpur to its ally, the BJP. In 2014, the AAP and the SAD had won four seats each, the Congress three and the BJP two.
Besides Punjab, the Union Territory of Chandigarh will see sitting MP and BJP candidate Kirron Kher locking horns with former railway minister and Congress candidate Pawan Kumar Bansal.
West Bengal, where campaigning was curtailed by 20 hours following violence during BJP chief Amit Shah’s roadshow, will see voting in its capital Kolkata in the last phase.
TMC chief Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee is seeking re-election from the Diamond Harbour seat. In Javadpur, the CPM has fielded lawyer and former Kolkata mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya against a Trinamool greenhorn, actress-turned-politician Mimi Chakraborty, and BJP’s Anupam Hazra, an expelled TMC MP. Basirhat Lok Sabha seat will see another star TMC candidate Nusrat Jahan locking horns with BJP’s Sayantan Basu.
Himachal Pradesh — which has four Lok Sabha seats Shimla, Mandi, Kangra and Hamirpur — will witness a direct contest between Congress and BJP, which started making inroads in the state since 1952 and won three of four seats in 1989.
In Shimla, a reserved constituency, a tight fight between the Congress’s Dhani Ram Shandil and BJP’s Suresh Kashyap is on the cards. Hamirpur, which has been a BJP bastion since the late 1980s, will see Anurag Thakur lock horns with Congress’ Ram Lal Thakur, who is a former kabaddi player, four-time MLA and former state minister.
As many as four Union ministers — Ravi Shankar Prasad, Ram Kripal Yadav, RK Singh and Ashwini Kumar Choubey — are in the fray in Bihar, besides Lalu Prasad Yadav’s eldest daughter Misa Bharti from Pataliputra.
A clash of titans is on the cards in Patna Sahib, where Shatrughan Sinha is seeking to retain the seat for a third consecutive term, this time on a Congress ticket, amid a formidable challenge posed by Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.