Round III: NDA has reason to smile
Though the BJP's tall claim of grabbing 22 of the 30 Lok Sabha seats that went to the polls on Wednesday may eventually prove to be a case of wishful thinking, the voting trends have certainly raised the party's hopes of improving its 1999 tally of seven seats.
Its gains are likely to be at the expense of the Samajwadi Party (SP) which once again suffered due to a split in the Muslim votes, notwithstanding chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav's last-ditch efforts to remove all misgivings about his party's tacit post-poll understanding with the NDA.
Though the SP faces no threat in its stronghold of Etah, Etawah, Kannauj, Mainpuri, the party may lose Farukkhabad, Lakhimpur Kheri, Hardoi and Unnao.
In Etawah, the BJP has put up a tough fight and the general perception is that Jaswantnagar will decide the outcome.
In Allahabad, Muslims extended their whole-hearted support to the SP, giving nightmares to Union minister Murli Manohar Joshi.
The Congress suffered in Kanpur — considered a safe seat for its sitting nominee Prakash Jaiswal. The sharp split in Muslim votes between the SP and the Congress has helped the BJP.
Overall too the Congress looks unlikely to improve its tally of two seats. The loss of Jhansi and Kanpur is likely to be compensated by gains in Mathura and Farukkhabad.
The BSP is in the fight for several seats, though it may not improve its 1999 tally of seven. Likely to lose seats in the Bundelkhand region, the party may pick a few in other areas, namely Unnao and Bilhaur.
Incidentally, the turnout remained poor in Muslim-dominated areas. The festive mood with which they used to queue up to cast votes was missing not only in Lucknow but elsewhere in the state too.
This was, however, hardly good news for the BJP as till afternoon even its voters did not show any excitement. Despite the media hype created by the party, the voting percentage remained poor. Thereafter, the panic button was pressed and the party's poll machinery eventually managed to get voters to come out.
As poll pundits analyse the third phase of polls, there is near unanimity on only one point: there will be a close finish on all seats barring perhaps Lucknow (A.B. Vajpayee), Mainpuri (Mulayam) and Kannauj (Akhilesh Singh Yadav).