It's the last lap of the 36-day nine-phase Lok Sabha elections and all eyes are on the remaining 105 constituencies that go to the polls on May 7 and May 12. From Narendra Modi to Rahul Gandhi, from Mulayam Singh Yadav to Arvind Kejriwal and from Rabri Devi to Ram Vilas Paswan - the fortunes of some of India's biggest leaders will be decided in the eighth and ninth phases.
Election Commission officials seal an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) prior to the start of voting at a polling station in Dibrugarh, Assam. (AFP photo)
In Uttar Pradesh there are 33 seats where the stakes could not get higher for parties across the spectrum. Top guns - Modi, Mulayam, Rahul, Mayawati and Kejriwal - have unleashed their forces for the final assault. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress secured victories in 10 of these seats while the BSP won 10, the SP bagged 9 and the BJP got only 4. Will the BJP regain lost ground or will the Congress, BSP and SP check the Modi juggernaut while holding on to their vote banks?
To gobble the support bases of other formations, the BJP has strategically fielded Modi from Varanasi. Along with the 33 seats in east UP, it also wishes to cash in on his charisma in 13 seats in neighbouring Bihar. Issues like broken roads, erratic power supply, 2,000 children falling prey to killer encephalitis, recurring floods, non-supply of water in the canals that were raised earlier have been pushed under the carpet as poll dates draw closer. "The election for 33 seats in east UP is now being fought only on one issue: Bring Modi or Stop Modi," says Kumar Harsh, an academic at Gorakhpur University.
In north-west Bihar, the 13 seats going to the polls will put the Modi 'wave' to test. The stakes are high for the JD(U), which won 6 of these 13 seats in 2009. Widely perceived to have fared poorly till now, the JD(U) has pinned its hopes on the last two phases.
The electoral battle will also be crucial for the RJD's Lalu Prasad, who is fighting a proxy battle in Saran through his wife Rabri Devi, who faces a tough battle against the BJP's Rajeev Pratap Rudy. A defeat here would be a huge setback for Prasad. LJP president Ram Vilas Paswan is working hard to recover the Hajipur seat, which he represented seven times before losing it to JD(U)'s Ram Sundar Das in 2009. If he doesn't win even after re-aligning with the BJP and putting his 'secular image' at stake, it will be difficult for him to regain it in future.
In Andhra Pradesh, all 25 seats of Seemandhra go to the polls on May 7. The Congress, bearing the burden of shepherding the division of the state, is expected to fare dismally. The main battle here is between the BJP-TDP combine and the YSR Congress led by Jagan Mohan Reddy. The latter is reported to have the edge at the moment.
In West Bengal, 23 seats go to polls. The state is witnessing multi-cornered contests in many seats. The Trinamool Congress is fighting a Lok Sabha election on its own for the first time and aims to retain its base as well as eat away the base of its former ally, the Congress. The BJP is widely reported to be rising, but whether a spike in vote share will translate into seats is uncertain.
Also going to the polls within the next 10 days are 5 seats in Uttarakhand, 4 in Himachal Pradesh and 2 in Jammu and Kashmir.