(Photo by Indranil MUKHERJEE / AFP)
(Photo by Indranil MUKHERJEE / AFP)

New Delhi: Polling began Sunday morning for 59 Lok Sabha seats in the sixth and penultimate phase of Lok Sabha polls with Union ministers Radha Mohan Singh, Harsh Vardhan and Maneka Gandhi, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and Congress leaders Digvijay Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia among several prominent faces in the fray.

Elections are being held in 14 seats in Uttar Pradesh, 10 seats in Haryana, eights constituencies each in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, seven seats in Delhi and four in Jharkhand. Over 10.17 crore voters are eligible to exercise their franchise to decide the fate of 979 candidates. The Election Commission has set up over 1.13 lakh polling stations for smooth conduct of the polls. The elections in this phase are seen as a big test for the BJP which had won 45 of these seats in 2014, with the Trinamool Congress bagging 8, the Congress two and the Samajwadi Party and the LJP one seat each among others.

Prominent candidates in the fray in Delhi include veteran Congress leader Sheila Dikshit, Olympian boxer Vijender Singh, Union minister Harsh Vardhan, Atishi from AAP and her BJP rival cricketer-turned-politician Gautam Gambhir. The Bhopal seat in Madhya Pradesh is witnessing an interesting contest between senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh and BJP nominee Pragya Singh Thakur. Guna will seal the fate of Congress general secretary Scindia. Union minister and BJP nominee Narendra Singh Tomar is in the fray from Morena.

In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is up against the SP-BSP-RLD coalition and the Congress. The BJP had won 13 of the 14 constituencies in 2014, the only exception being Azamgarh, won then by SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav. However, the BJP had to face defeat in the bypolls in Phulpur and Gorakhpur constituencies last year. While, the anti-BJP alliance would like to retain its grip over both the seats, the saffron party is looking to wrest them from the opposition. Their importance can be gauged from the fact that Gorakhpur was represented by Yogi Adityanath in Lok Sabha from 1998 to 2017, before he became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.

Similarly, Phulpur was won for the first time by the BJP in 2014, when Keshav Prasad Maurya emerged victorious from the seat once represented by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Maurya vacated the seat after he became the deputy chief minister of the state in 2017. In Azamgarh this time, Akhilesh is trying to retain his father’s seat against Bhojpuri film star Dinesh Lal Yadav ‘Nirahua’ of the BJP. Sultanpur too is seeing an interesting contest as the BJP has fielded Union minister Maneka Gandhi for the seat won by her son Varun in 2014.

The ruling Trinamool Congress, the BJP, the Congress and the Left Front constituents – the CPI(M), the CPI and the AIFB – are the main contenders in West Bengal. In this phase, polling is being 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. Union ministers Rao Inderjit Singh and Krishan Pal Gurjar are among the 223 candidates in fray in Haryana. Former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, a sitting MLA of Congress from Rohtak district, is once again trying his luck to enter the lower House, this time from Sonipat. Earlier, Hooda had remained a four-time MP from Rohak parliamentary constituency.

Hooda’s son Deepender is seeking re-election for fourth term from Rohtak as Congress nominee.  Among other candidates, Union minister Birender Singh’s son Brijendra Singh (BJP) and former chief minister Bhajan Lal’s grandson Bhavya Bishnoi (Congress), both political greenhorns, are contesting from the Hisar Lok Sabha seat, where they face sitting MP and leader of newly floated JJP Dushyant Chautala, grandson of former chief minister, O P Chautala.

Former Union minister Kumari Selja and state Congress chief Ashok Tanwar are fighting from Ambala and Sirsa, respectively, for the party. Four sitting MPs, including Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, are among the 127 candidates contesting in Bihar. The final phase of polls will be held for 59 seats on May 19. Results will be declared on May 23.

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