The fourth phase of polling in Indian parliamentary elections will be held today when an estimated 130 million people will be eligible to exercise their democratic right to choose their representatives for 72 constituencies spread across nine states. With Monday’s voting, the exercise will be completed in 375 out of the total of 543 Lok Sabha seats as the first three phases saw polling in 303 constituencies. Polling in the next three phases of the seven-phase national election will be over by May 19 and the counting of votes will be taken up on May 23.
Ruling Bharatiya Janata Party faces a stern test of its ability to defend the 177 out of the 195 seats it had won in the previous parliamentary polls in 2014 when polling is held in the next three phases beginning on Monday. For example, in two heartland states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP had won all the 25 seats and 27 of the 29 seats five years ago but faces a daunting task of repeating it after the party lost power to the Congress in these two states in assembly elections in December last year. On the other hand, the Congress hopes to build on the momentum of its victory in assembly polls and carry it to parliamentary elections in the two states.
In Bihar, what's left to poll is all BJP+ territory (25 out 26 seats that poll in the four last phases). With Nitish Kumar now back in their camp, it would be foolhardy to expect them to lose much ground here. The key battle of course will be fought in Central and Eastern UP, where the BJP+ in 2014 swept 50 of the 54 seats but faces the challenge of the BSP-SP alliance and, separately, the Congress in an area where the opposition parties are stronger. Eastern UP is also less likely to be as influenced by the emphasis on nationalism and defence of Bharat as the western part of the state.
Here, where development has taken a backseat, local issues and caste equations may be more important than campaign calls to bring back Modi-ji. In fact, this is where the Modi aura will face its severest test. Among the 12 states where voting is going to be held on Monday are Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Maharashtra.
In West Bengal, voters will decide on Monday the fate of 68 candidates in the fray in eight seats--Baharampur, Krishnagar, Ranaghat (SC), Burdwan East (SC), Burdwan-Durgapur, Asansol, Bolpur and Birbhum – which will see a four-cornered contest between the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress, the BJP, the Congress and the Left Front. The Election Commission will deploy a total of 580 companies of federal police forces to ensure free and fair polling, election officials said.
The Trinamool Congress has fielded Apurba Sarkar (David) against the Congress lawmaker Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in Baharampur seat and the Left Front constituent Revolutionary Socialist Party has nominated Id Mohammad while the BJP has named Krishna Joyardar. Trinamool’s film star-candidate Satabdi Roy faces BJP's Dudh Kumar Mondal in Birbhum seat. The Congress has nominated Imam Hossain and the CPI(M) named Rezaul Karim for the seat.
In polling in Rajasthan on Monday, the focus will be on Jhalawar-Baran and Jodhpur constituencies where the sons of former chief minister Vasundhara Raje of the BJP and incumbent Ashok Gehlot of the Congress are in fray. The son of another senior Congress leader and Madhya Chief Minister Kamal Nath is contesting in Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh. Kamal Nath won Chhindwara parliamentary seat nine times before shifting to state politics.