Amid predictions of a hung assembly in Andhra Pradesh, the stage is set for the first phase of simultaneous elections to the state legislature and the Lok Sabha on Thursday.
With no wave in favour of any party, it will mainly be a three-cornered contest among the ruling Congress party, the grand alliance led by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the newly formed Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) of Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi.
The authorities have made all poll-related as well as security arrangements for the first phase of the poll in 154 assembly and 22 parliamentary constituencies in the Telangana region and north coastal Andhra Pradesh.
As many as 31.1 million voters in these constituencies spread over 13 districts will decide the electoral fortunes of 315 candidates for the Lok Sabha and 1,833 candidates for the assembly. Polling will be conducted in 36,124 polling stations.
In the second phase, 140 assembly and 20 parliamentary seats will go to the polls on April 23. This phase will cover 26.6 million voters in 30,427 polling stations.
Campaigning has seen the ruling Congress harping on the development and welfare schemes it implemented in the last five years and the main opposition TDP promising free colour television sets and Rs.1,000 to Rs.2,000 per month for poor and middle class families.
Chiranjeevi's party has focussed on social justice and sought a mandate for change.
In Telangana, which accounts for 119 assembly and 17 Lok Sabha seats, it is likely to be a direct fight between the TDP-led alliance and the Congress. The PRP has a limited presence in the region.
It is going to be a three-cornered contest in north coastal Andhra.
The PRP's entry as the third force a few months ago has changed the political equations in the state, which has so far given a clear mandate to either the Congress or the TDP.
About 133,000 electronic voting machines are being used during the elections and half of them will be pressed into service in the first phase.
This is the first election since the recent delimitation of constituencies.
Prominent among the candidates for the Lok Sabha polls are union minister S Jaipal Reddy, who is contesting from the newly created Chevella constituency on the outskirts of Hyderabad, union minister Renuka Chowdhury, who is seeking re-election from Khammam, and D Purandareswari, who is trying her luck from Visakhapatnam. All India Congress Committee secretary Madhu Yaskhi Goud is contesting again from Nizamabad.
The other prominent candidates for Lok Sabha include Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) president K. Chandrasekhara Rao (Mahabubnagar), film actress Vijayashanti of the TRS (Medak), TDP leader K. Yerran Naidu (Srikakulam), CPI national secretary S. Sudhakar Reddy (Nalgonda) and PRP leader T. Devender Goud (Malkajgiri).
Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, TDP president N Chandrababu Naidu and actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi are all contesting for the assembly from the Rayalaseema region, which goes to the polls in the second phase along with south coastal Andhra.
The authorities have made massive security arrangements to ensure peaceful and free and fair elections. Chief Electoral Officer I V Subba Rao said 118,000 police personnel apart from 208 companies of central paramilitary forces and AP Special Police are being deployed.
Though the Maoist guerrilla movement has considerably weakened in the state in the last few years, police are not taking any chances and have intensified patrolling, especially in the north coastal Andhra districts bordering Orissa.
The officials have identified 5,102 troublesome, 9,159 sensitive, 5,312 hyper-sensitive and 2,747 extremist affected polling stations.
The police force is being headed by Director General of Police A K Mohanty, who was appointed to the top post after the Election Commission removed S S P Yadav for violating the model of conduct.
In the first phase, polling will be held from 7 am to 4 pm The poll timing has been reduced by one hour for security reasons.