New Delhi: Polling began for the seventh and last phase of Lok Sabha elections, covering 59 constituencies spread over seven states and one union territory.
Over 10 crore electorate will decide the fate of 918 candidates including Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this phase.
Polling, which began at 0700 hrs, will continue till 1800 hrs except for three assembly segments –Robertsganj, Dudhi and Chakia of the Robertsganj Lok Sabha seat where the polling will end at 1600 hrs.
Elaborate arrangements have been made to ensure free, fair and peacefully polling. Invoking Article 324 of the Constitution, the Election Commission had curtailed the campaign one day in advance in Bengal after a spree of violence.
With the curtain on the razzle-dazzle of a high pitch campaign ringing 19 hours ahead of the scheduled end, following invocation of Article 324 by the Election Commission, all eyes are now riveted on today’s seventh and last phase election to nine Lok Sabha seats of Dum Dum, Barasat, Basirhat, Jaynagar, Mathurapur, Diamond Harbour, Jadavpur, Kolkata Dakshin and Kolkata Uttar.
Polling is being held for 13 seats each in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, nine of Bengal, eight apiece of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, all four of Himachal Pradesh, three of Jharkhand and lone seat of Union Territory Chandigarh.
On the last day of campaigning, Mr Modi, asserted that the Bharatiya Janata Party would retain power at the Centre with full majority of its own.
At the same news conference, BJP president Amit Shah, gave a detailed report card of the performance of the National Democratic Alliance dispensation.
The 13 Lok Sabha seats of Poorvanchal of Uttar Pradesh, including the city of Baba Vishwanath, saw a high decibel campaign.
A total of 167 candidates are in the race from Maharajganj, Gorakhpur, Kushinagar, Deoria, Basgaon, Ghosi, Salempur, Ballia, Ghazipur, Chandauli, Varanasi, Mirzapur and Robertsganj. Bypoll to Agra (north) assembly seat would also take place simultaneously.
The fate of Union Minister Manoj Sinha (Ghazipur), Apna Dal (Sonelal) founder Anupriya Patel (Mirzapur), UP BJP president Dr Mahendra Nath Pandey (Chandauli), Bhojpuri actor and BJP candidate Ravi Kishan (Gorakhpur) will be decided in this phase.
Mr Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath campaigned in almost all the 13 constituencies.
The election campaign in Punjab was dominated by religious issues. The ruling Indian National Congress accused erstwhile Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party government of failure to investigate alleged sacrilege episodes while the Opposition took a jibe against INC for Congress Overseas President Sam Pitroda’s remark—“Hua toh hua” for 1984 riots.
Drug menace and farmers’ distress, too, found space.
The election campaign in Punjab took speed after talks between Indian National Congress and Aam Adami Party for alliance, but both the parties decided to contest separately.
Polling is being held for all 13 Lok Sabha constituencies—Amritsar, Anandpur Sahib, Bathinda, Faridkot, Fatehgarh Sahib, Fazilka, Firozpur,Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Khadoor Sahib, Ludhiana, Patiala, Phillaur Ropar, Sangrur and Tarn Taran in Punjab.
Star wars in Bihar
All eyes are set on Patna Sahib, where actor-politician Shatrughan ‘Shotgun’ Sinha, who left BJP recently, is now contesting on INC ticket. In 2009 and 2014, ‘Shotgun’ had won this seat for BJP twice. This time, BJP has fielded Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad against him.
Another keen battle will be in Sasaram, where Congress candidate and former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar is in the fray. BJP has fielded Chhedi Paswan against her.
The eight seats of Bihar–Nalanda, Patna Sahib, Pataliputra, Arrah, Buxar, Sasaram, Karakat and Jahanabad—are going to polls.
Total number of candidates in these eight constituencies is 157 including 20 female candidates. Nalanda constituency has maximum number of 35 candidates, Ara minimum 11 nominees.
Campaigning for Rajmahal, Dumka and Godda parliamentary constituencies in Jharkhand came to an end on Friday.
There are 14 candidates in fray from Rajmahal (ST), 15 from Dumka (ST) and 13 candidates from Godda.
In Dumka, eight-time MP and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) president Shibu Soren is contesting against Sunil Soren of BJP.
Campaigning for eight LS seats in MP came to an end on Friday.
In Madhya Pradesh, polling is taking place for Dewas, Ujjain, Mandsaur, Ratlam, Dhar, Indore, Khargone and Khandwa parliamentary constituencies.
Meenakshi Natarajan is trying her luck again from Mandsaur from INC ticket after being defeated five years ago. Farm loan dominated the election campaign, with both Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party playing a blame game on each other for doing nothing for farmers.
Eighty-two candidates are in the fray in the eight seats, comprising six in Dewas, nine in Ujjain, 13 in Mandsaur, nine in Ratlam, seven in Dhar, 20 in Indore, seven in Khargone and 11 in Khandwa.
Campaign for all four LS seats– Shimla (SC), Mandi, Hamirpur and Kangra– in Himachal Pradesh came to an end on Friday.
Mr Modi had addressed rallies in Mandi and Solan while BJP president Amit Shah held three meetings on a single day.
A direct contest is expected between the ruling BJP and the Congress.
At least 2 lakh security personnel have been deployed in 13 Lok Sabha seats in Poorvanchal area of Uttar Pradesh.
State Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Vekenteshwarlu said in view of the ongoing heat wave conditions, authorities concerned have been directed to ensure drinking water, shed and other basic facilities for the voters in the districts going to polls.
The state government has deployed over 200 companies of central forces besides PAC and district police which will provide security to all the polling booths.
To instill confidence among the voters, paramilitary forces carried out flag marches in vulnerable areas.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP had won all the seats of this phase. But in the bypolls in Gorakhpur, Samajwadi Party had emerged victorious.
In the seventh phase of polls, a total of 2.36 crore electorate, including 1.28 crore male and 1.08 crore female, are expected to cast their votes in over 26,000 booths.
In this phase, Varanasi has the highest number of 26 candidates in fray followed by 15 each in Ghosi and Salempur, 14 each in Majarajganj, Kushinagar and Ghazipur, 13 in Chandauli, 12 in Robertsganj, 11 in Deoria, 10 each in Ballia and Gorakhpur, nine in Mirzapur and lowest of 4 in Basgaon.
Twelve candidates are in the fray for Agra (North) assembly bypolls to be held along with the last phase of polls on Sunday.
In this phase, 26 per cent candidates have criminal cases, including 22 per cent who have heinous criminal cases against them. Mafia don Atiq Ahmed, who is contesting as an Independent from Varanasi is on the top of the list with a record 59 cases while BSP candidate Atul Kumar Rai, contesting from Ghosi seat, is on the second place with 13 cases. Presently, Rai is on the run following threat over his arrest in a rape case.
Congress candidate from Varanasi Ajay Rai too is on the third spot with eight cases registered against him.
BJP’s Pankaj Choudhury contesting from Maharajganj seat is the richest candidate in the phase with asset of Rs 37 crore while Congress candidate from Kushinagar R P N Singh, who has an asset worth over Rs 29 crore, is second wealthiest candidate.
Mafia don Atiq Ahmed, who is on the top of the criminal list in this phase is on the third place with properties worth over Rs 25 crore.
All 13 seats going to polls on May 19 were won by the BJP in 2014 except for Gorakhpur which the BJP lost in the bypolls. Similarly, 13 of the 14 seats of east UP, polling for which was held on May 12, were also won by the BJP in the last general elections. This time around, however, the saffron party faces a major challenge from the SP-BSP-RLD alliance in the state.
Electoral fortunes of several stalwarts of BJP and the Congress shall be sealed in electronic voting machines on Sunday during exercise of franchise in Indore, Dewas, Ujjain, Dhar, Khandwa, Khargone, Mandsaur and tribal-dominated Ratlam parliamentary constituencies of Madhya Pradesh under the state’s fourth and final phase of these Lok Sabha polls.
Dewas and Ujjain are reserved for Scheduled Castes; Ratlam, Dhar and Khargone for Scheduled Tribes.
A total 82 candidates are in the arena and the 1,49,13,890-strong electorate includes 72,86,890 women. The voting area-wise break-up of nominees is Indore 20, Dewas six, Ujjain nine, Dhar seven, Khandwa 11, Khargone seven, Mandsaur 13 and Ratlam nine. Polling centres number 18,411, official sources said.