Polling for 18 seats in the crucial last phase of Lok Sabha polls in eastern Uttar Pradesh, to decide the fate of 328 candidates, including BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, AAP's Arvind Kejriwal and SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav will be held on Monday.
Over 3 crore voters, including 1.35 crore women, are expected to exercise their franchise at 19,881 polling centres to decide the fate of various political stalwarts. In the mother of all political battles, Kejriwal will take on Modi from the the temple city of Varanasi, which witnessed massive show of strength by both the outsiders, also attracting the attention of international media.
Congress' Ajay Rai, a 'local' backed by Mukhtar Ansari's Quami Ekta Dal (QED), also wooed voters here as the high pitched canvassing saw allegations and counter-allegations flowing thick and fast between leaders of different hues.
On these 18 seats, Samajwadi Party had clinched six seats from the region, BSP 5, BJP 4 and Congress 3 in 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Interestingly, BSP had registered marginal loss and ended up in the second place in 12 seats.
The Samajwadi Party supremo, besides sticking to his traditional bastion in Mainpuri, has thrown his hat into the ring from Azamgarh too. However, unlike Mainpuri, Azamgarh may not be a cakewalk for him as he faces a tough fight from BSP's Shah Alam alias Guddu Jamali, Rastriya Ulema Council Chief Aamir Rashadi Madana, and Mulayam's own former associate Ramakant Yadav, who is now fighting on a BJP ticket.
While Mulayam is banking on his traditional Muslim-Yadav vote bank, division of Muslim votes by Madani and Guddu Jamali could benefit Ramakant.
Political heavyweights like Minister of State for Home RPN Singh from Kushinagar and Jagdambika Pal, who switched sides from Congress to the saffron party, from Domariyaganj are also trying their luck.
The other prominent candidates include CPI's Atul Kumar Anjaan from Ghosi, who is in locked in a tight contest against controversial legislator Ansari, BJP leader Kalraj Mishra from Deoria, yogi-turned politician Yogi Adityanath from Gorakhpur, Bhojpuri movie star Ravi Kishan from Jaunpur and former prime minister Chandrashekhar's son, Neeraj Shekhar from Ballia.
Muscleman Dhananjay Singh, who is a sitting MP, is again in the fray from Jaunpur, but this time as an independent candidate after being expelled from BSP.
Among smaller parties prominent leaders, who are in fray included Peace Party head Mohammad Ayub from Domariyaganj, Apna Dal's (which has entered into an alliance with BJP) Anupriya Patel from Mirzapur, Rastriya Parivartan Dal's DP Yadav, whose son Vikas Yadav was convicted in murder of Nitish Katara and chief of Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party Om Prakash Rajbhar from Salempur.
The 18 seats which are going to polls on Monday include Domariyaganj, Maharajganj, Gorakhpur, Kushinagar, Deoria, Bansgaon, Lalganj, Ghosi, Azamgarh, Salempur, Ballia, Jaunpur, Machhlishahar, Gazipur, Chandauli, Varanasi, Mirzapur and Robertsganj.