Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) prime ministerial candidate LK Advani will be among the 1,567 candidates whose political fates will be decided on Thursday when the third phase of Election 2009 is held across nine states and two union territories.
As the summer gathers force with temperatures hitting 40 degrees Celsius and more in many parts of the country, voters will begin queuing up outside the 165,000 polling stations in 107 constituencies from 7 am.
The exercise, which involves an electorate of over 144 million, 200,000 electronic voting machines and 600,000 election officials, will conclude at 5 pm.
In Gujarat, polling will conclude in all its 26 constituencies along with two neighbouring union territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and and Daman and Diu and Sikkim, which have one seat each. West Bengal will see the first of its two-phase election while balloting will conclude in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Bihar will have one more round to go. In Uttar Pradesh, which has the highest 80 seats, and in Jammu and Kashmir polling would continue through the rest of the two phases on May 7 and May 13.
Besides Sonia Gandhi, seeking re-election from Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh for the second time, and Advani, who has been representing Gandhinagar in Gujarat for the last three terms and tries his electoral luck again, other major leaders are also in the fray in this round.
These include former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) convenor Sharad Yadav, veteran Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Gurudas Dasgupta and BJP's former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh.
There are 101 women candidates but none in Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Daman and Diu.
The Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow has the maximum 41 candidates battling it out while the seat, presently held by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (BJP), also has the highest number of women candidates at five, including Samajwadi Party's Nafisa Ali. Vajpayee is not contesting this election because of health reasons.
The third phase has a mixed bag of candidates -- 258 have criminal records and 223 are millionaires, according to a study by NGO National Election Watch (NEW).
NEW, which analysed affidavits of 1,492 candidates, found that the BJP topped the list with 29 candidates with criminal records. Among the states, Gujarat has the highest 69 such nominees. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) follows with 28 contestants and Bihar is next to Gujarat with 54.
Among the 223 millionaires, the Congress has 58, followed by BJP 42, BSP 21 and Samajwadi Party 13.
The party-wise number of contestants are BJP (95), BSP (102), Communist Party of India-Marxist (15), Congress (93), Nationalist Congress Party (19), CPI (9) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (8).
Votes of all five phases will be be counted May 16. Balloting has concluded for 265 seats in the first two rounds from the total 543 seats for which elections are being held.