Campaigning ends for 102 seats in first phase of Lok Sabha polls

All 39 Tamil Nadu seats go to polls; simultaneous Assembly polls in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh; BJP campaign focussed on PM Modi’s star power, “Modi’s guarantees”; INDIA bloc attacked ruling party on unemployment, inflation, farm woes

April 17, 2024 11:17 pm | Updated 11:17 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Stanley Mawa, 57, a porter, carries election material as he crosses a root bridge to reach a remote polling station, ahead of the first phase of the election at Shillong, Meghalaya on April 17, 2024.

Stanley Mawa, 57, a porter, carries election material as he crosses a root bridge to reach a remote polling station, ahead of the first phase of the election at Shillong, Meghalaya on April 17, 2024. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Political parties held their last rallies in 102 Lok Sabha constituencies on April 17 as campaigning came to an end for the first phase of the general election. Voting will be held in these seats, scattered across 21 States and Union Territories, on April 19.

While the BJP based its campaign on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Opposition INDIA bloc targeted the ruling party by raising issues such as unemployment, farmers’ distress, and price rise. Mr. Modi, the “star campaigner” for the ruling alliance, criss-crossed the country holding rallies and roadshows, and the BJP’s manifesto revolved around his “guarantees”. For the INDIA bloc, which has more or less amicably settled seat arrangements within its unwieldy coalition, campaigning was more issue-based, focussed on promises for women, youth, and farmers.

In the last Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance had an edge in these 102 seats, winning 45 as against 41 seats for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

All T.N. seats in first phase

With 39 seats from Tamil Nadu and one seat from Puducherry going to the polls on April 19, the largest number of seats in the first phase is from southern India. In 2019, the DMK-led alliance won 39 of the 40 seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. Nearly 6.23 crore electors in Tamil Nadu will cast their votes, with 950 candidates in the fray. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the State multiple times during the campaign, as the BJP sought a foothold in the State. However, the leading contenders are still the Dravidian majors, the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

Around 10.24 lakh voters in Puducherry will choose their nominee for the lone seat from 26 contestants. All four leading contestants advocated for Statehood for the Union Territory in their campaigns.

Three-way fight in U.P.

In Uttar Pradesh, the campaign ended in eight constituencies, with Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra holding a road show in Saharanpur supporting her party’s candidate Imran Masood. Samajwadi Party (SP) president Akhilesh Yadav addressed rallies in Moradabad and Bijnor. In Saharanpur, Kairana, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor, Nagina (reserved for Scheduled Castes), Moradabad, Rampur, and Pilibhit, the stage is set for a three-way contest between the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the INDIA bloc, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Muslim voters comprise 38% to 50% of the electorate in these constituencies. A total of 80 candidates, including 73 men and seven women, are in the fray. The campaign witnessed the BJP leaders pushing the Hindutva narrative with words like fatwa, curfew, riots, and exodus predominantly echoing in the campaign vocabulary. The Opposition called it an election to save India’s Constitution.

M.P.’s tribal belt

In Bihar, campaigning ended in the four seats of Aurangabad, Gaya, Jamui, and Nawada. There are 38 contestants in the fray, with Gaya having the maximum number of 14 candidates. In the last 2019 Lok Sabha election, all four seats had gone to the NDA. In 2024, the BJP has fielded its candidates for the Aurangabad and Nawada seats, while the Gaya (reserved) seat has gone to its ally, the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular). Party president and former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi is pitted against the mahagathbandhan candidate, Kumar Sarvajeet of he Rashtriya Janata Dal.

In Madhya Pradesh, six Lok Sabha seats in the tribal belt of the Mahakoshal and Vindhya regions are going to the polls in the first phase. In Chhindwara, former State Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s son and sitting MP Nakul Nath is the Congress candidate and is being challenged by the BJP’s Vivek Bunty Sahu. Mr. Nath is the only sitting Congress MP in these six seats, wth the BJP holding the other five. A total of 88 candidates are in the fray.

J&K campaign focus on Article 370

In Jammu and Kashmir, the only Parliament seat going to the polls in the first phase is Udhampur-Doda. The BJP’s Jitendra Singh, a Union Minister considered close to the Prime Minister, will take on the Congress’ Chaudhary Lal Singh and the Democratic Progressive Azad Party’s G.M. Saroori. Twelve candidates are in the fray. It’s the demography of voters that throws up an interesting dynamic, with the Ramban and Doda districts comprising the majority of Muslim votes, while the plains of Kathua and Udhampur are Hindu-majority districts. The poll narrative has revolved around the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019, with the National Conference and the Congress highlighting the delay in granting Statehood to J&K and in holding Assembly elections. The BJP, on the other hand, has focussed on the positive impact of the Centre’s move to end J&K’s special status.

Twelve of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan will vote in the first phase. Prominent candidates include the INDIA bloc nominees Amra Ram in Sikar and Hanuman Beniwal in Nagaur, who have been fielded following an alliance with the Congress. Mr. Amra Ram is a CPI(M) leader of the Shekhawati region, while Mr. Beniwal is the founder-chief of the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party. The Congress expects to win over the Gujjar community, which had overwhelmingly supported the BJP in eastern Rajasthan in 2019, while the Jats will play a crucial role in the Shekhawati region, comprising Sikar, Churu and Jhunjhunu, and in some areas of Nagaur, Bharatpur and Jaipur Rural. The recent agitation of Jats from Bharatpur and Dholpur districts, seeking their inclusion in the Central Other Backward Classes (OBC) list, is likely to impact the BJP’s prospects.

RSS headquarters city

In Maharashtra, campaigning concluded peacefully in the five constituencies which are going to the polls in the first phase, with Union Minister and BJP stalwart Nitin Gadkari among those in the fray. Mr. Gadkari is seeking a third term from Nagpur, the home city of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s ideological parent. Other seats voting on April 19 are Chandrapur, Ramtek (SC), Gadchiroli-Chimur (ST) and Bhandara-Gondia, all in the Vidarbha region. In 2019, the BJP-Shiv Sena (undivided) alliance secured victories in four of these seats, except for Chandrapur, which was the only seat won by the Congress in the whole State.

In West Bengal, polling will be held in three seats amidst a high-pitched campaign by the Trinamool Congress and the BJP. The Left-Congress alliance is also trying to regain their base in the State.

Assembly polls in Arunachal, Sikkim

In Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, Assembly elections are also taking place simultaneously with the Lok Sabha poll. In Arunachal Pradesh, polling will only be held in 50 out of the 60 Assembly seats, as the BJP is unchallenged in 10 seats. Overall, 133 candidates, including seven women, are in the fray. The BJP is contesting 50 seats and Congress is contesting 19 seats. The National People’s Party is contesting 20 seats while the Nationalist Congress Party is contesting 14 seats.

For the 32 Assembly seats in Sikkim, there are 147 candidates of which 12 are women. The Prem Singh Tamang-headed SKM, which parted ways with the BJP ahead of the Assembly polls, is confident of continuing in power, even as the SDF, which ruled Tripura for more than 24 years, is believed to not have enthused the voters enough. While the Congress has been virtually wiped out in the State, the BJP and the Citizen Action Party – a new entity formed just before the polls – could be the dark horses.

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