Big stakes in four big states
The electoral fortunes of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi, Rashtriya Janata Dal president Laloo Prasad Yadav and several others will be decided on Wednesday when 83 Lok Sabha seats in seven states go to polls.
The stakes are high for all four major parties — the BJP, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress. With caste playing a decisive role in deciding the fate of the candidates in this region, all parties have chosen their nominees to suit caste combinations. The voting pattern is likely to change from constituency to constituency.
The BJP is expecting to increase its tally and hopes that the division in the minority vote among the SP, BSP and the Congress will help it further its electoral prospects.
For the BSP, the phase is crucial as the party had won seven seats (of the 30 that are polling on Wednesday) and had finished second in an equal number of constituencies in 1999.
The BSP hopes that the minority community would shift towards it because of comments by senior BJP leaders that the SP could join hands with the NDA at the Centre after the polls. Incidentally, the BSP has given the maximum number of tickets to Muslims.
The Congress may be down but not out. Of the 12 of 29 seats going to polls in the state, the Congress is giving the BJP a run for its money in at least nine constituencies. The otherwise lacklustre campaign gained momentum only after the exit polls predicted a fractured mandate. Whether the late surge by invigorated Congress workers will result in victory remains to be seen, but MP will not be a cakewalk for the BJP.
A battle royale is being fought in Chhindwara where Congress strongman Kamal Nath is fighting against Union minister Prahalad Singh Patel. The BJP, particularly chief minister Uma Bharti, has made the contest a prestige issue. Vajpayee had campaigned for his party in this seat.
Political analysts are unanimous in their opinion that the Congress has made a late comeback in Khajuraho (where party spokesperson Satyavrat Chaturvedi is the nominee), Damoh, Satna, Sidhi, Balaghat, Mandla, Jabalpur, Seoni and Chhindwara. The Congress, however, faces threats to its base from the SP, BSP and the Gondwana Gana Parishad.
There is a strange kind of mood in the Congress and BJP camps on the eve of elections to the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan. While the public posture is one of optimism and confidence, even die-hard supporters of both parties are confused over the outcome.
Chief minister Vasundhara Raje claimed on Tuesday that she was sure that the BJP would realise its 'Target 25.' But within the party, the overriding sentiment is that of caution.
The Congress, which began the campaign amid forecasts of gloom and doom, recovered a bit after exit polls following the first two rounds of voting suggested that its stock was on the rise. But the tragic death of its working president Abrar Ahmed, a day before polling, has doused its enthusiasm a bit.
The Congress has reason to expect a little more from the election than its rivals. When campaigning began, not many were willing to give it more than five seats. Today, it seems to have edged past the BJP in at least five seats and is waging a bloody battle in another eight seats.
The BJP, on the other hand, had entered the fray with 18 seats already in its pocket. But the fact that even its brightest star, Dharmendra, is working extra hard to win, indicates that the BJP peaked midway through the campaign and then went into a downward slide.
Looking at the manner in which both parties chased religious groups and casteist organisations in the run up to the polls, it appears that in an issueless election, caste equations could be the decisive factor.
While the focus is on Madhepura, the other 11 seats going to polls are no less crucial for both the NDA and the RJD-led front. Laloo's trusted Muslim-Yadav formula will be put to the test in most of the seats. Now that Ram Vilas Paswan is his ally, he expects the support of Dalits. The region is supposed to be the stronghold of the BJP-JD (U) alliance.
The RJD has everything to gain as they did not win a single seat out of the 12 in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. But its allies — Congress (Begusarai), CPI-M (Bhagalpur) and LJP (Purnia) — have a lot at stake. Another ally, the NCP, has fielded Tariq Anwar from Katihar.
The fortunes of Rajesh Ranjan, alias Pappu Yadav (Purnia), Independent Ranjit Don (Begusari), Shahnawaz Hussain (Kishanganj), Digvijay Singh (Banka), former CBI joint director N.K. Singh (Madhepura) and former Bihar DGP D.P. Ojha (Begusarai) will also be decided in this phase.
The presence of 12 BSP and 11 Samajwadi Party candidates in the fray has made the situation complicated as the votes they get will hamper the prospects of both the NDA and the secular alliance.
With inputs from M. Hassan in Lucknow, Ambareesh in Bhopal, Sandeepan Sharma in Jaipur and Mayank Singh in Patna.
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