Lok Sabha polls: PM Modi joins 900-plus candidates in phase 7 battle

States and UTs going to polls tomorrow are Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chandigarh

Polling and security officials leave for polling booths from Patna (photo: PTI)
Polling and security officials leave for polling booths from Patna (photo: PTI)

Ashlin Mathew

The election season is finally ending with the seventh and last phase of polling for the 18th Lok Sabha election on 1 June, 76 days after the Election Commission of India (ECI) announced the model code of conduct (MCC). In this phase, 57 constituencies in eight states and Union Territories will go to polls. The BJP had won 24 of these seats in 2019 and the Congress eight.

States and UTs going to polls are Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chandigarh. Polling for the remaining 42 Assembly segments in Odisha will also be held simultaneously.

In this phase, 68 per cent of 57 constituencies are 'red alert' constituencies, which means there are three or more contesting candidates who have declared criminal cases against them.

There are 904 candidates in the fray, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Of the total number, 328 are from Punjab, 144 from Uttar Pradesh, 134 from Bihar, 124 from West Bengal, 66 from Odisha, 52 from Jharkhand, 37 from Himachal Pradesh, and four from Chandigarh.

In this phase, there are over 10.06 crore electors including 5.24 crore men, 4.82 crore women and 3,574 third-gender voters. There will be a total of 2,707 flying squads, 2,799 static surveillance teams, 1,080 surveillance teams and 560 video viewing teams for surveillance round the clock.

Voting in the seven-phase elections began on 19 April, and the counting of votes will be held on 4 June. The voter turnouts in the first six phases — 19 April, 26 April, 7 May, 13 May, 20 May 20, 25 May — were 66.1, 66.7, 61, 67.3, 60.09 and 63.37 per cent, respectively.

Key candidates in the fray

Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh is from where PM Modi is hoping to win with a record margin for the third time, having won by a margin of around 4.79 lakh votes in 2019. This time, too, Ajay Rai of the Congress will contest against him, also for the third time. Rai was also with the BJP until 2007, but quit the saffron party to join the Congress.

In Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur, the purported garh (fortress) of chief minister Yogi Adityanath, BJP has fielded actor-turned politician Ravi Kishan against Kajal Nishad of the Samajwadi Party (SP). In 2019, Kishan won the seat with more than 60 per cent of the votes, while SP candidate Rambhual Nishad finished second.

From Ballia in eastern Uttar Pradesh, BJP candidate Neeraj Shekhar (son of late PM Chandra Shekhar) will take on SP candidate Sanatan Pandey, who lost the 2019 elections by just 15,000-plus votes. Shekhar had contested from this seat as an SP candidate in 2009 and in the 2008 by-poll after the death of his father in 2007. His father had represented the constituency eight times. Currently the seat is represented by BJP’s Virendra Singh Mast.

Mandi in Himachal Pradesh is the scene of a high-voltage battle between Bollywood actor and BJP candidate Kangana Ranaut and Vikramaditya Singh, son of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh. Historically, Mandi has been a bastion of the Congress party, and has been represented by Singh’s parents Virbhadra Singh and Pratibha Singh, who is the outgoing MP from the seat.

Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh, is witnessing an interesting battle between seasoned politician and Kasauli MLA Vinod Sultanpuri of the Congress and incumbent MP Suresh Kashyap of the BJP. With the candidature of Sultanpuri, the Congress hopes to win back the constituency as his father Krishna Dutt Sultanpuri had represented it a record six times.

In Himachal’s Hamirpur, Union minister Anurag Thakur will look to defend his bastion against the Congress' Satpal Raizada. Thakur has represented the constituency since 2008, when he won the by-poll after the death of his father Prem Kumar Dhumal, who had represented it in 2007, 1991 and 1989.

Graphic: PTI
Graphic: PTI

In Kangra, also in Himachal, senior Congress leader and former Union minister Anand Sharma is taking on the BJP's Rajiv Bharadwaj. Sharma, who is a four-time Rajya Sabha MP, is making his Lok Sabha poll debut.  BJP’s Kishan Kapoor is the incumbent MP.

In Punjab’s Patiala, former chief minister Amarinder Singh’s wife Preneet Kaur, who switched to the BJP from the Congress, will be up against the Congress' Dr Dharamvir Gandhi, Aam Aadmi Party candidate Dr Balbir Singh, and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) nominee N.K. Sharma. The Congress candidate had won the seat in 2014 when he contested as the AAP candidate.

In Amritsar, the BJP has fielded former Indian ambassador to the United States Taranjit Singh Sandhu against the Congress candidate and incumbent MP Gurjeet Singh Ahuja. Ahuja had won the 2017 bypoll, necessitated by the resignation of Capt. Amarinder Singh, and had defeated Hardeep Puri in 2019, when he contested from this seat. SAD has fielded Anil Joshi, who was the Amritsar North MLA from 2007-17.

Khadoor Sahib in Punjab is where a most keenly watched contest is happening. Amritpal Singh, a radical Sikh preacher who has modelled himself on the late Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and is currently lodged in Dibrugarh jail, is contesting the election as an independent candidate. He is up against Kulbir Singh Zira of the Congress, Virsa Singh Valtoha of SAD and Laljit Singh Bhullar of AAP. The seat was represented by Congress’s Jasbir Singh Gill.

In Punjab’s Bathinda, SAD's Harsimrat Kaur Badal will take on Congress candidate Jeet Mohinder Singh Sidhu, AAP's Gurmeet Singh Khudian and BJP's Parampal Kaur Sidhu. Badal has represented the constituency since 2009, and is the wife of SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal.

In Punjab’s Jalandhar, there is a heated contest between Dalit leader and former Punjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi and the AAP's Pawan Kumar Tinu, a two-time former SAD MLA. The BJP’s candidate is sitting MP Sushil Rinku, who was first announced as the AAP candidate, but then joined the saffron party.

Last year, Rinku quit the Congress and joined the AAP. SAD has fielded former Punjab Congress chief and former MP Mohinder Singh Kaypee from the seat. Historically, Jalandhar has been a Congress bastion and former PM I.K. Gujral previously represented it.  

Source: PTI
Source: PTI

In Punjab’s industrial centre Ludhiana, there is an intense battle unfolding as incumbent Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu switched over to the BJP ahead of the elections and is now the saffron party’s candidate. The Congress has placed its bets on Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh 'Raja' Warring. Bittu is the grandson of slain Punjab CM Beant Singh. AAP has fielded Ludhiana Central MLA Ashok Bappi as its candidate and he SAD candidate is Ranjit Singh Dhillon.

It is a battle of prestige in the Union Territory of Chandigarh, with the Congress and AAP jointly fielding Manish Tewari against the BJP’s Sanjay Tandon, who has replaced sitting MP and actor-turned-politician Kirron Kher of the BJP. Tewari is the current Congress MP from Punjab’s Anandpur Sahib, while Tandon is the son of the late Chhattisgarh governor Balramji Das Tandon, and is currently the party’s co-incharge for Himachal Pradesh. The BJP is hoping for a third straight victory from here.

Bihar’s Pataliputra constituency is another talking point, with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) fielding Lalu Prasad Yadav's eldest daughter Misa Bharti from here against Ram Kripal Yadav of the BJP. He was known to be close to Lalu Yadav, but left the party and the joined BJP in 2014, defeating Bharti in both 2014 and 2019. Yadav is now hoping for a hat-trick.

Patna Sahib in Bihar will see Union minister and sitting BJP MP Ravi Shankar Prasad contesting against former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar’s son Anshul Avijit. Avjit is making his electoral debut and Patna Sahib has been a BJP bastion since the seat came into existence after the 2008 delimitation.

Arrah in Bihar will see the BJP's R.K. Singh contesting against CPI-ML (Liberation)’s Sudama Prasad, the incumbent MP.

West Bengal's Diamond Harbour will see Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee in a three-way contest against the CPI(M)’s Pratikur Rahaman and Abhijit Das of the BJP. Diamond Harbour is a TMC stronghold, and Banerjee had defeated the BJP candidate by a staggering 3.2 lakh votes in 2019.

Seats going to the polls

Bihar (8 of 40): Nalanda (JDU), Patna Sahib (BJP), Pataliputra (BJP), Arrah (BJP), Buxar (BJP), Sasaram (BJP), Karakat (JDU), Jahanabad (JDU)

Chandigarh: Chandigarh (BJP)

Himachal Pradesh: Kangra (BJP), Mandi (BJP), Hamirpur (BJP), Shimla (BJP)

Jharkhand (3 of 14): Rajmahal (JMM), Dumka (BJP), Godda (BJP)

Odisha (6 of 21): Mayurbhanj (BJP), Balasore (BJP), Bhadrak (BJD), Jajpur (BJD), Kendrapara (BJD), Jagatsinghpur (BJD)

Punjab: Gurdaspur (BJP), Amritsar (INC), Khadoor Sahib (INC), Jalandhar (INC), Hoshiarpur (BJP), Anandpur Sahib (INC), Ludhiana (INC), Fatehgarh Sahib (INC), Faridkot (INC), Firozpur (SAD), Bathinda (SAD), Sangrur (AAP), Patiala (INC)

Uttar Pradesh (13 of 80): Maharajganj (BJP), Gorakhpur (BJP), Kushi Nagar (BJP), Deoria (BJP), Bansgaon (BJP), Ghosi (BSP), Salempur (BJP), Ballia (BJP), Ghazipur (BSP), Chandauli (BSP), Varanasi (BJP), Mirzapur (Apna Dal), Robertsganj (Apna Dal)

West Bengal (9 of 42): Dum Dum (TMC), Barasat (TMC), Basirhat (TMC), Jaynagar (TMC), Mathurapur (TMC), Diamond Harbour (TMC), Jadavpur (TMC), Kolkata Dakshin (TMC), Kolkata Uttar (TMC)

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