The first big test of BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi’s popularity, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s ability to beat back anti-incumbency and AAP’s hold on Delhi is Thursday when 91 seats across India go to the polls in the third phase of the Lok Sabha elections.
Aam Adami Party leader Arvind Kejriwal during an publice meeting at Maujpur northeast constituency in New Delhi. (Virendra Singh Gosain/HT Photo)
As many as 100 million voters in 14 states and union territories, including some Maoist-affected areas, will vote in the biggest round of polling, so far. Five years ago, the Congress, which retained power at the Centre, won almost half — 45 — of these 91 seats. The BJP managed only 16.
Seven Union ministers including Kapil Sibal, Kamal Nath and Ajit Singh, former army chief VK Singh and film stars Nagma and Gul Panag are among the 1,481 candidates in Round 3.
The Northeast voted in the first two rounds, Monday and Wednesday, of the nine-phase polls.
Delhi will vote for all its seven seats Thursday. The interest in the Capital, which has 12.7 million voters, is certainly disproportionate to the number of members its sends to the Lok Sabha.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) goes back to the Capital’s voters for the first time after a stunning assembly debut and a quick exit — within 49 days of swearing-in — from the government. Is the “quitter tag” for real or yet another fabrication by rivals? May 16 will give the answer when the votes are counted.
After being decimated in the assembly polls, the Congress is out to redeem pride in Delhi, where it bagged all the seats in 2009. But a resurgent BJP, which won the highest — 32 — number of seats in December’s assembly polls, is looking to repeat its clean sweep of 1999.
In the last three general elections, the party that won the highest number of Delhi seats went on to form the government at the Centre.
While the Congress has re-fielded all seven sitting MPs, the BJP has put faith in fresh faces, including state chief Harsh Vardhan who is fighting his first Lok Sabha election from Chandni Chowk.
The run-up to the third phase saw a high-voltage campaign, often assuming communal overtones. While Modi called for “Congress mukt Bharat (Congress-free India)”, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi pitched the polls as a battle between secular and communal ideologies.
Last year’s communal clashes between Jats and Muslims in Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh dominated the campaign, with attempts to polarise voters. Ten seats in this Jat-Gujjar-Muslim belt vote on Thursday.
Far away from UP’s farm belt, Maoist-hit areas of Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand, too, gear up for the battle of ballot.
On Wednesday, three CRPF men escorting poll personnel were killed in an ambush by the rebels in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma — a grim reminder of how volatile the security situation is.
Thousands of security personnel have been deployed but the election commission is keeping its fingers crossed. “You cannot predict peaceful polls there. In the last elections, some of our poll personnel were ambushed,” a senior EC official said.
In Bihar, elections will open with voting for six of its 40 seats. Polling will also be held in nine constituencies in MP, 10 in Maharashtra and all 20 in Kerala.