The stage is set for polling in all the 26 Lok Sabha constituencies in Gujarat, and the fortunes of a number of bigwigs, including BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and several Congress union ministers, shall be sealed Wednesday. As in the past two Lok Sabha elections -- in 2009 and 2004, the main fight is largely between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress. Modi is contesting from Vadodara and also from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh -- where polling shall take place May 12.
In Vadodara, Modi is pitted against Congress general secretary and prominent Dalit leader Madhusudan Mistry. Another important contestant is Modi's bete noire Shankarsinh Vaghela, a former chief minister and also union minister, who is pitted against BJP legislator Dipsinh Rathod in Sabarkantha. Congress heavyweight and union Minister for Mines Dinshaw Patel will lock horns with sitting BJP legislator Devusinh Chauhan in Kheda constituency. An MP from Gujarat since 1975, Patel, known for a clean image and administrative prowess, is being projected as a future chief minister.
Union Minister Bharat M. Solanki, son of former chief minister and central minister Madhavsinh Solanki, is pitted against BJP's Dilip Patel from Anand constituency. Another former chief minister Amarsinh Chaudhary's son, central minister Tushar A. Chaudhary is contesting against BJP's Prabhu Vasava. Vasava is a former Congress legislator who quit some time ago to join the BJP which awarded him a Lok Sabha ticket.
BJP sprang a surprise when it nominated Bollywood actor Paresh Rawal, best known for his comedy roles, to fight against Congress strongman and former Ahmedabad mayor Himmatsingh Patel from the prestigious Ahmedabad East seat. The BJP campaign was orchestrated by Chief Minister Narendra Modi, while the Congress salvos were fired by party chief Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi. There are 334 candidates in the fray, including 67 Muslims -- one from the Congress, seven from the Samajwadi Party and the rest nominated by regional parties or independents. Four seats are reserved for SCs and two for STs. An electorate of 3.99 crore, which comprises roughly 10 percent Muslims, will vote at 45,380 polling stations.
In 2009, barring candidates from the BJP and the Congress, all other 305 candidates - barring one from a regional party - forfeited their election security deposits. The situation was similar in 2004. The tally in 2009 was BJP 15 and Congress 11 - but the latter lost two more seats to the BJP in by-elections later, making its effective current strength nine.
In 2004, BJP won 14 seats and the Congress 12. This time, the Congress is hoping for a tally of 15 seats but partymen admit that the BJP is going all out to limit the Congress to a single-digit entity.