The fifth voting phase of the Indian general elections – which will take place tomorrow (17 April) - is the biggest of all the nine scheduled phases across the epic five-week national ballot.
Voters in the phase five constituencies will elect 121 representatives to the 16th Lok Sabha (Lower House) from 12 states and union territories. While polling will be held in all the 28 seats in the southern state of Karnataka, 20 out of 25 seats in Rajasthan will be up for verdict in this phase. The other states to go to the polls include parts of Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar and Manipur. (Maps and a full schedule of the voting phases can be found here.)
In Karnataka, it is shaping up as a neck and neck battle between the Congress and the BJP. In the 2009 elections, the BJP registered a landmark victory winning 19 of the 28 seats from the state. However allegations of corruption and internal squabbling within the party saw it lose the Assembly elections last year when Congress romped to victory with Siddaramaiah as its Chief Minister. Former chief minister Yeddyurappa of the BJP who resigned from the party after he was made to relinquish the post of the Chief Minister following allegations of corruption, has returned back to the party fold and will be fighting from the Shimoga constituency.
The other candidate to watch is Nandan Nilekani, who was until recently heading the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and is standing for elections on a Congress ticket from Bangalore South.
Rajasthan is another big state which goes to the polls tomorrow. The BJP won a massive victory in the Assembly elections in December last year and is expected to continue its winning streak under the leadership of its Chief Minister, Ms Vasundhara Raje. In the 2009 general elections, Rajasthan was a big ticket state for the Congress, which gave the party 20 out of the 25 seats.
However a reversal of fortune is on the cards for both the parties this time around. Constituencies to keep an eye on are Ajmer and Barmer. One of the young Turks of the Congress Party (who is also the party president in the state), Sachin Pilot, is fighting a difficult election from Ajmer. It will be interesting to see whether he can withstand the Narendra Modi-Vasundhara Raje storm in his own constituency, and how much of the party he can salvage from the decimation it is expected to receive in the hands of the BJP. The other interesting candidate to watch is former defence minister Mr Jaswant Singh, who was miffed at being denied a ticket from his ancestral constituency of Barmer by the BJP and will be standing in this election as an independent candidate.
Ten of the 29 Parliamentary constituencies go for polling in this phase of the elections in Madhya Pradesh, another state where the BJP is expected to do very well. A majority of the constituencies where voting will take place in this phase are BJP strongholds. However, the constituency to watch out for will be Guna, where the Congress candidate Jyotiraditya Schindia has won in the past three elections and seeking re-election for the fourth time.
In Maharashtra, 19 of the 48 constituencies will be voting in this phase, mostly the southern belt of the state. The BJP along with its alliance partner Shiv Sena is expected to win the majority of the seats. The ruling Congress-NCP combination, which has ruled the state for the past 15 years, is going to see a sharp decline in its fortunes. Some of the big issues confronting the incumbent Congress government in this election has been the Adarsh Society Housing Scam, the irrigation scam and farmers’ suicides.
In Odisha, 11 out of the 21 seats go for polling in this phase and the regional party Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which rules the state, is expected to bag the maximum number of seats. The BJP is expected to do fairly well at the expense of Congress overall, another state where the party’s performance looks bleak. The constituency to look out for is Kendrapara, from where Bijayant Panda of the BJD is the sitting Member of Parliament and is seeking re-election for the second term in the Lok Sabha.