NEW DELHI : The focus of electioneering will shift to the battleground Hindi heartland states in the fifth and sixth phases of the general elections, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi planning saturation campaigning in the region.

At stake are 110 seats across nine states and Union territories, including Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress are in a direct contest. Among other states that go to the polls in these two phases are Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

The outcome of voting in these Hindi heartland states, which overwhelmingly supported BJP in the 2014 national elections, may determine whether Narendra Modi will get a second term as prime minister.

Modi, who has made the current elections a referendum on himself and his muscular response to Pakistan, will address at least 25 public meetings, a majority of them in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

Senior BJP leaders said they were planning at least 10 public meetings of Modi in Uttar Pradesh, with a focus on Bahraich, Barabanki, Kaushambi and Ambedkar Nagar. The prime minister is also expected to hold at least three public meetings in Jharkhand, four in West Bengal, three in Rajasthan, two in Madhya Pradesh and one in Delhi.

“The stakes are high for BJP because the party had won most of the seats in this region last time and we would like to repeat our performance," said a senior leader of BJP based in Lucknow.

The Congress is also drawing up a hectic campaigning schedule for its star campaigner, Rahul Gandhi. His campaign activity in the region is likely to increase as his own seat of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh also goes to the polls in the fifth phase.

The attempt was to have at least 3-4 public meetings a day, said senior Congress leaders.

“The focus of the remaining phases is on states where Congress and BJP are in direct contest and a key chunk of the Hindi heartland. Gandhi will have a key focus on party-ruled states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, which go to polls in the remaining phases," one of the senior leaders cited earlier said, requesting anonymity.

While BJP will be taking on the grand alliance of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, it will be interesting to see how the campaign rallies of Modi and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who is in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, pan out.

Many Congress leaders from Varanasi were keen that Gandhi Vadra contest against PM Modi from the seat, but the party leadership did not decide in its favour.

BJP members said the battle in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan was crucial because out of the 54 Lok Sabha seats in the two states, the ruling party had won 53 in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and it was important for BJP to repeat its performance in the Hindi heartland states.

“We lost the two states to the Congress in the assembly polls, but the fact is that BJP’s vote share increased in Madhya Pradesh. So, we are confident that assembly election results will not impact the decision of the people and BJP has a good chance of retaining its seats. This time, the choice is for PM and not chief minister," the BJP leader added.

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