New Delhi: Polling in one of India’s most bitterly-fought general elections will conclude on Wednesday although it is not yet clear who will capture power.
Campaigning for the polls was acerbic with attacks on persons and characters by star campaigners of key groupings — UPA, NDA and the Third Front.
Staggered polling, which began on 16 April, has seen elections completed to 457 Lok Sabha seats and also stray violence in some parts of the country.
The final phase would see election of 86 MPs and among the contenders are Congress’ P Chidambaram and Md Azharuddin, BJP’s Maneka and Varun Gandhi and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, DMK’s T R Baalu, A Raja, Dayanidhi Maran and M K Azhagiri, MDMK’s Vaiko, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and SP’s Jayaprada.
The general elections will decide if the ruling UPA coalition will hold on to power or the multi-party NDA will return after a five-year hiatus or if a third combination would spring a surprise. The counting of votes on 16 May will decide which one would have the final word.
A party or a coalition needs 272 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha to stake claim to form a government. Elections are held only to 543 seats as two members are nominated from the Anglo-Indian community.
Congress’ Mani Shankar Aiyar and Sajjad Gani Lone of People’s Conference also feature in the list of prominent names in this leg, in which 10.78 crore voters can choose from 1,432 candidates.
Elections would be held to all 39 seats in the key state of Tamil Nadu and four seats in Himachal Pradesh, two in Jammu and Kashmir, nine in Punjab, 14 in Uttar Pradesh, 11 in West Bengal, five in Uttarakhand and the lone one seat each in both Chandigarh and Puducherry.
The Left Parties, whom Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi had sent feelers to for a post-poll tie-up, too have indicated that they were keeping options open.
“Let the elections be over. Let the results come...After 16 May, we will see,” said CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat, whose party had withdrawn support to the Congress-led UPA over the Indo-US civil nuclear deal.
Elsewhere, Jayalalithaa denied that the AIADMK was in secret talks with others for an alliance.
Rahul Gandhi’s reference to Jayalalithaa in the context of alliance at a press conference in Delhi last week had apparently upset the DMK, the Congress’ ally in Tamil Nadu.
The Gandhi scion had later reassured the ally that it was very much Congress’ partner for elections in the state and that the two would work together in other states as well.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi later appeared together with DMK president and Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi on the same platform at an election meeting, while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too had called on him.
Tamil Nadu is key as the DMK-Congress combine had swept all the 39 seats in the 2004 elections.
However, the DMK-Congress alliance appears to have been weakened by the exit of Left parties. The PMK and MDMK are now part of the AIADMK-led front in Tamil Nadu.
Telangana Rashtra Samiti, which contested the elections in Andhra Pradesh as part of the Third Front, appeared in the company of NDA leaders at a public meeting in Ludhiana, highlighting that realignment of forces has already begun.
Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir are the only states to go to the polls in all the five phases.
Of the 1,432 candidates, there are just 93 women contenders in the fray. The prominent among the women candidates are Maneka Gandhi (Aonla) and Jayaprada (Rampur).
Chidambaram is contesting from Sivaganga, Azharuddin (Moradabad), Varun Gandhi (Pilibhit), Naqvi (Rampur), Baalu (Sriperumbudur), Raja (Nilgiris), Maran (Central Chennai), Azhagiri (Madurai), Aiyar (Mayiladuthurai), Vinod Khanna (Gurdaspur), Najyot Singh Sidhu (Amritsar) and Lone (Baramulla).
Elections would be held across 1.21 lakh polling booths. As many as 5,995 villages and hamlets have been identified as prone to intimidation and over 18,000 people troublemakers.