Indians vote in 2nd-to-last round of election

Millions of Indians exercised their franchise on Sunday in voting in the sixth and penultimate phase of Indian parliamentary polls across the national capital and six other states in an another litmus test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid. India’s first citizen President Ram Nath Kovind and his wife Savita cast his vote at polling booth inside the Rashtrapati Bhavan complex this morning. This is the first time that Kovind has exercised his voting right after taking over as the President of India in July 2017. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli were also among the early voters in Delhi.

The fate of several ministerial colleagues of Modi, including Radha Mohan Singh (Agriculture), Harshvardhan (Science & Technology) and Maneka Gandhi (Women and Child Development), opposition Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Congress leaders Digvijay Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia, will be decided in the sixth phase in which polling is being held in 59 constituencies where an estimated 10.70 crores people were eligible to vote.

Elections on Sunday were held in 14 seats in key battleground state of Uttar Pradesh, 10 seats in Haryana, eight constituencies each in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, seven seats in Delhi and four in Jharkhand. Today’s polling is seen as a big test for Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party which had won 45 of the 59 seats five years ago. The party is looking to make big gains in West Bengal against Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and seek to cut its potential losses in states where it had reached the peak in the national polls five years ago.

All eyes are on Uttar Pradesh’s Phulpur and Gorakhpur parliamentary seats, which were captured by the Bahujan Samaj Party-Samajwadi Party combine in last year's bypolls despite its reputation as BJP strongholds. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav in contesting from Azamgarh, a Samajwadi Party stronghold, against the BJP's Dinesh Lal Yadav "Nirahua". His father and SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav, had won the seat in 2014.

In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP had won 13 of the 14 constituencies, where voting took place on Sunday, seven of the ten seats in Haryana, seven of eight in Madhya Pradesh, all eight in Bihar,all seven in Delhi and all four in Jharkhand. While the BJP is facing a divided opposition in Delhi and neighbouring Haryana, it has run into a strong challenge from the caste-based alliance of the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party in UP, especially in eastern part of UP where polling was held today.

Delhi’s seven seats saw a three-day battle between the BJP, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress, with ex-Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Science & Technology Minister Harshvardhan, former Olympian boxer Vijender Singh and cricketer-turned-politician Gautam Gambhir among the 164 candidates in the fray.

The saffron party also hopes to make a big impact in four of the eight constituencies in West Bengal. These four constituencies—Jhargram, Purulia, Bankura and Midnapore are in the tribal belt of the state where it had put up an impressive show in panchayat polls last year.

The Trinamool Congress, the BJP, the Congress and the Left Front constituents - the CPI(M), the CPI and the Forward Bloc - are the main contenders in West Bengal. In this phase, polling will be held in Jangal Mahal - the forested region of Bankura, West Midnapore, Jhargram and Purulia districts, which used to be a Maoist hotbed, during the erstwhile Left Front government. The BJP made a determined push to wrest this area dominated by Trinamool since the decline in Maoist presence.

The Congress will be looking to make major gains in MP after its win against the BJP in state assembly polls less than six months ago. The party could win only two out of the total number of 29 parliamentary seats in the heartland state.

In MP, the Bhopal parliamentary seat will see an interesting fight between senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh, a former Chief Minister, and BJP nominee Pragya Singh Thakur, an accused in a terror blast case. Guna constituency in the state will seal the fate of Congress general secretary and Jyotiraditya Scindia and Modi’s ministerial colleague and BJP nominee Narendra Singh Tomar who is in fray from Morena.

The fight in the national capital, is triangular involving the BJP, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party. Prominent candidates in the fray in Delhi include veteran Congress leader Sheila Dikshit, Olympian boxer Vijender Singh, India’s Science and Technology minister Harsh Vardhan of BJP and rival cricketer-turned-politician Gautam Gambhir of the BJP.

In Haryana, former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, a sitting legislator of the Congress from Rohtak district, is once again trying his luck to enter the lower House, this time from Sonipat. Earlier, Hooda had been a four-time parliamentarian from Rohak constituency. In Jharkhand, the BJP this time is facing a grand alliance between the Congress and a clutch of regional parties and anti-incumbency including some controversial policies of the state’s BJP government relating to transfer of forest land ownership from tribals to non-tribals. Tribals make up about 26 per cent of Jharkhand’s nearly 32 million population. In Bihar, four sitting lawmakers including India’s Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, are among the 127 candidates contesting.