Congress President Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi are among 674 candidates whose electoral fate will be sealed in Electronic Voting Machines tomorrow when voting takes place in the fifth phase of India’s parliamentary elections covering 51 constituencies across seven states.
Rahul and Sonia are in the fray in the Gandhi family’s traditional pocket-boroughs Amethi and Rae Bareli respectively in the key battleground state of Uttar Pradesh. Apart from being adjacent constituencies, Amethi and Rae Bareli are among economically-impoverished regions in eastern part of the state.
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh is in the contest tomorrow from Lucknow constituency where Poonam Sinha, wife of Bollywood actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha, is in the battle as a candidate of Samajwadi Party. Sulking for a long time, Shatrughan recently quit the BJP and joined the Congress and is the latter’s nominee in Patna Sahib constituency in his home state Bihar.
Over 8.75 crore voters will be eligible to exercise their franchise in the fifth phase which will mark completion of polling in 424 of the total of 543 Lok Sabha constituencies. The last two phases of the marathon election process are scheduled for May 12 and 19 and vote-count will be taken up on May 23.
Rahul will be looking for a fourth consecutive victory from Amethi which has been a Congress stronghold since long. The party had lost it only twice in the past—once to Janata Party in 1977 and then to the BJP in 1998.
However, this time Rahul, contesting his first parliamentary poll as Congress chief since taking over the mantle from his mother in December 2017, is expected to face a tough contest from his challenger Smriti Iran, a federal minister and BJP candidate. A former TV actress, Smriti lost to Rahul by one lakh votes in the previous parliamentary poll in 2014.
Sonia Gandhi has won from Rae Bareli four times in a row since joining politics in 1997. This time, she is involved in a direct contest with the BJP’s Dinesh Pratap Singh. In the last poll in the constituency five years ago, Sonia won by a margin of 352,000 votes against the BJP nominee Ajay Agarwal.
The Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance in UP has not put up any candidate against Rahul and Sonia even though it is contesting against the Congress candidates in most other constituencies in the state.
The BJP hopes Rajnath will easily win from Lucknow, a seat the party has not lost in the last seven parliamentary polls. For Poonam Sinha, this is the first election and neither the Samajwadi Party nor its ally Bahujan Samaj Party has ever won in Lucknow.
Another key constituency in the fifth phase of polling is Jaipur Rural where it will be a clash between India’s winner of Olympic medals—Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, the federal Information Minister, of the BJP and Krishna Poonia of the Congress. In 2014, Rathore, a former army officer, defeated C P Singh of the Congress by 332,896 votes.
In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP won 71 out of the total of 80 seats in 2014 national poll that had helped the party securing 282 seats on its own becoming the first party in three decades to gain majority in the Lok Sabha. The National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP won 336 seats from that poll.
But this time, the BJP faces a tough challenge from the SP-BSP caste coalition amidst reports that the saffron party’s tally of seats may come down to 40 in UP.