Forty-one constituencies across three states including the high-profile Varanasi seat on Monday will bring down the curtains on the 35-day-long marathon polling for the nine-phased Elections 2014.
Over 506 million people — more than the combined population of the US, Germany, Canada and the UK — have exercised their franchise in 502 constituencies where polling has already been held in eight phases.
With the summer elections registering a voter turnout of 66.21% so far, all eyes are on whether the Indian electorate can surpass the polling percentage of 64 registered in the 1984 elections held after Indira Gandhi's assassination.
In the ninth phase, 600 candidates are in the fray in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Nearly 66 million voters are expected to seal their electoral fortunes.
Of the 41 seats going to polls, the Trinamool Congress (Bengal's ruling party) had won 14 seats in 2009, followed by six each by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Samajwadi Party (UP's ruling party), five by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and four by the Congress.
The spotlight in this round will be on Varanasi, where BJP's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi will take on Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP's) Arvind Kejriwal and Congress' Ajay Rai.Altogether 42 candidates are in the fray for the Varanasi parliamentary seat which has 1.7 million registered voters. Over 45,000 security personnel have been deployed in the constituency to ensure free and fair polls. Central paramilitary forces have been deployed at all the 1,562 polling stations which are also under CCTV coverage.
The high-voltage campaigning in the temple town was marked by Modi's mega road show during his nomination filing, Kejriwal's public meetings, clashes between AAP volunteers and alleged BJP workers as well as a rally by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
The district administration's denial of permission for a Modi rally in a sensitive area of Varanasi had triggered a political storm recently, with the BJP accusing the election commission of being partial and the poll watchdog refuting the allegations in rare press conference.
Modi fighting the poll battle in Varanasi is strategically important for the BJP, which hopes to put up a good show in Poorvanchal comprising eastern UP and parts of Bihar.
In 2009, the Samajwadi Party (SP) had won six of the 18 UP seats going to polls on Monday. The BSP had won five seats, the BJP four and the Congress three.
Considering importance of the region, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has decided to contest from Azamgarh.
Other prominent leaders in the last phase are Union minister Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury (Behrampur- West Bengal), BJP leader Jagdambika Pal (Domariyaganj), Union minister RPN Singh (Kushi Nagar— both UP) and former minister and RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh (Vaishali-Bihar).
In neighbouring Bihar, six seats are up for grabs. Of them, the BJP and the ruling Janata Dal (United) — which was then an ally of the saffron party — had won two each, while Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) had bagged a solitary seat. One seat had gone to an independent candidate.
The Congress-RJD alliance is hoping for a comeback by scoring over Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar's JD(U), which had parted ways with the BJP last year.
Seventeen seats go to polls in Bengal as well. The last phase of polling is a key test for the ruling Trinamool, which had won 14 of these seats.
With the BJP trying to find a foothold in Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Modi featured in heated verbal duels in the campaigning phase.
The Left Front, which was ousted by the Trinamool in 2011 after its 34-year rule, is hoping for a turnaround.
(with PTI inputs)