The marathon Lok Sabha elections, one of the most bitterly fought in recent memory, will come to a close on Monday when polling will be held in 41 constituencies in three states where stakes are high for BJP and regional parties Trinamool Congress, SP and BSP.
Over nine crore voters are expected to decide the fate of 606 candidates, including BJP's Prime Ministerial nominee Narendra Modi and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal (both Varanasi) and SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav (Azamgarh) in tomorrow's ninth and final phase of polling.
Campaigning in the election that started on April 7 came to an end on Saturday with Rahul Gandhi taking the battle to Modi's turf in Varanasi while other top leaders including Modi and UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav addressing last minute meetings.
Counting of votes in all the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies will be taken up on May 16. An average of 66% voters exercised their franchise in the last eight phases. The whole elections were spread over 35 days.
Of the 41 seats, heartland Uttar Pradesh will witness polling in 18 seats. Of these, ruling Samajwadi Party has six seats, followed by BSP 5, BJP 4 and Congress 3. West Bengal has 17 seats in which polling will be held. Of these, the ruling Trinamool Congress has 14 seats, while Congress, CPI and Independent have one each. In neighbouring Bihar, six seats are up for grabs. Of them, BJP and JD(U) have two each, while RJD and Independent have one each.
Prominent among those in the fray in Monday's polling are Union Minister Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary (Behrampur- West Bengal), BJP leader Jagdambika Pal (Domariyaganj), Union Minister RPN Singh (Kushi Nagar- both UP) and former minister and RJD leader Raghuvanh Prasad Singh (Vaishali-Bihar).
The last phase of the campaign also saw BJP mounting an all-out war on the Election Commission over refusal of permission for Modi to address a public meeting at a spot of his choice in Varanasi. The Commission rejected all charges of bias levelled by BJP and said its decisions in Varanasi and elsewhere were unanimous. There were no differences in the Commission.
Polling was by and large peaceful in the previous eight phases barring incidents of Maoist violence in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The country registered a record turnout of voters, surpassing the previous record in 1984, as 66.27% voting was reported in 502 Lok Sabha seats where polling has been conducted in eight phases that began on April 7. The 2009 elections recorded a 57.94% turnout.
Modi spearheaded the BJP challenge and criss-crossed the country addressing nearly 6,000 meetings, mixing traditional methods of holding rallies with innovative use of technology, 'chai par charcha' meetings and 3D video campaign.
The Nehru-Gandhi family made a vigorous push for votes with Rahul, his mother and Congress President Sonia Gandhi, and his sister Priyanka Gandhi leading the party challenge. Sonia and Rahul are contesting from the family pocketborough in Rae Bareli and Amethi in UP where the Congress Vice President is pitted against BJP's actor-turned-politician Smriti Irani and AAP's youth leader Kumar Vishwas.
In West Bengal, prominent TMC candidates in the race are Sudip Bandyopadhyay, Dinesh Trivedi and Sougata Roy besides celebrities like actors Dipak Adhikari (Dev) and Tapas Paul. Trinamool Yuva President Abhishek Banerjee, nephew of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, is also in the fray. On the rival side, CPI-M's Subhasini Ali is among the key candidates. BJP nominee magician PC Sorcar (Junior) and WBPCC President Adhir Chowdhury, besides former West Bengal Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta of the CPI-M and former Union minister Tapan Sikdar of the BJP, pitted against each other in Dum Dum, are the key contestants in the last phase.
In Bihar, filmmaker Prakash Jha and former union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh are among the 90 contestants.