Over 18 million voters are eligible to vote on Thursday in Maharashtra in the first of three phases of the Lok Sabha poll covering 13 of the state's 48 seats.
A total of 246 candidates, including 119 independents, are in the fray in the first round that will cover Vidarbha in eastern Maharashtra and parts of the Marathwada region.
The dominant issues in the first phase are suicide by debt-burdened farmers, lack of water, Maoist guerrillas and an overall sense that other parts of the state are getting the lion's share of development funds.
Praful Patel, Suryakanta Patil and Vilas Muttemwar, all ministers in the outgoing central government, are among the candidates in the 13 constituencies.
These include Buldana, Akola, Amravati, Wardha, Ramtek, Nagpur, Bhandara-Gondia, Gadchiroli-Chimur, Yavatmal-Washim, Chandrapur, Nanded, Parbhani and Hingoli.
With the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) reaching a seat-sharing pact in Maharashtra, their candidates will have the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena combine as their main rivals.
The Congress and the BJP are slugging it out in Akola, Bhandara-Gondia, Wardha, Nanded and Nagpur, while the Congress and the Shiv Sena will take on each other in Ramtek and Yavatmal-Washim.
The NCP will take on the Sena in Parbhani, Gadchiroli-Chimur, Buldana and Hingoli and the BJP in Chandrapur. In Amravati, the Sena and the Republican Party of India (Gavai) are the main contenders.
Among the 13 constituencies, the largest number of contestants, 28, are in Yavatmal-Washim. The figure includes 18 independents. Hingoli has only 11 candidates; so do Akola and Gadchiroli-Chimur.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has fielded candidates in 12 of the 13 constituencies going to the polls Thursday. It has not put up anyone in Akola from where Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) president Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of B.R. Ambedkar, is contesting. He is pitted against two strong contenders - the Congress' Babasaheb Dhabekar and the BJP's Sanjay Dhotre.
Chief Minister Ashok Chavan's brother-in-law Bhaskarrao Khatgaonkar (Congress), who was trounced in the last elections, is contesting against BJP veteran Sambhaji Pawar in Nanded, a Sikh holy town.
NCP strongman and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel is contesting for the Bhandara-Gondia seat where he is pitted against the BJP's Shishupal Patel. Rebel Congressman Nana Patole may queer the pitch for Praful Patel there.
Vilas Muttemwar (Congress) is pitted against BJP strongman Banwarilal Purohit in Nagpur.
Kerala Governor R.S. Gavai's son Rajendra Gavai is up against Sena stalwart and former union minister Anandrao Adsul in Amravati. The Sena's Kripal Tumane is contesting against former Congress central minister Mukul Wasnik in Ramtek.