Stage set for crucial fourth phase polls
A total of 83 seats spread over seven states will go to the polls on Wednesday. What's in store?
A total of 83 seats spread over seven states will go to the polls in the crucial fourth phase of the elections on Wednesday.
Among the heavyweights who will be in the contest are Prime Minister AB Vajpayee (Lucknow), SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav (Mainpuri), HRD Minister MM Joshi (Allahabad), the BJP's Dharmendra (Bikaner) and the Congress's Balram Jakhar (Churu).
Big and tough contests are expected in Madhepura, where RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav squares off against the JD(U)'s Sharad Yadav; Jalore, where Congress veteran Buta Singh faces Susheela Laxman, wife of former BJP chief Bangaru Laxman; and Chhindwara, where the Congress's Kamal Nath meets Prahlad Singh Patel.
The results of the elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will be crucial for the NDA. It held 25 out of 37 seats from these states and it will look to make some gains or at least hold on to its tally. Going by its sweep in the two states in last year's assembly elections and some opinion polls, this might not prove to be too difficult.
The contest for 30 seats in Uttar Pradesh is expected to be tight. The NDA must do well here to be comfortably placed at the time of forming the government.
This phase of the elections could be make or break for the NDA for several reasons. West Bengal and Kerala, with 62 seats, go to the polls in the fifth and final phase on May 10. The NDA cannot realistically expect to make any gains in these states.
In 1999, the BJP had swept the elections in Tamil Nadu in alliance with the DMK. Now it has swapped partners to go with the AIADMK. It cannot be certain that it will retain its tally in the southern state.
Madhya Pradesh and Punjab will contribute 30 seats in the final phase of polling. In the former, the NDA can expect to make minor gains, but it can hope to boost its tally in Punjab, where it had got only three out of 13 seats.
But the likelihood of the NDA bleeding in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Delhi, where the Congress had only one out of 27 seats, is high. In Haryana and Himachal, it has lost allies. The former will see four-cornered contests, with Om Prakash Chautala's Indian National Lok Dal deciding to leave the NDA. In the latter it has lost the support of Sukh Ram’s Himachal Vikas Congress. Sukh Ram has returned to the Congress fold.
The Big Fight
With Laloo and Sharad Yadav clashing, will Madhepura be another Chapra?
The big battle in the third phase of the elections will be in Madhepura, where RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav is fighting the JD(U)'s Sharad Yadav. This is a grudge contest -- Laloo had defeated Sharad once, before the latter unseated him in 1999. There are apprehensions of violence, as in Chapra, whose fate will soon be decided by the EC. The BJP has sought the EC's intervention, saying jailed Lok Janshakti Party muscleman Rajiv Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav is in Madhepura. Groups like the Ranvir Sena are preparing for action. Bihar People's Party chief Anand Mohan Singh has put his muscle power behind Sharad. Both candidates are camping in Madhepura.
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