India’s seven-phase Lok Sabha election hit prime time on Tuesday as the country goes to poll in the third phase, which will see political heavyweights such as BJP president Amit Shah, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, former Union minister Shashi Tharoor and former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Mulayam Singh Yadav among others, contest in 117 parliamentary constituencies across 15 states.
By the end of the third phase of polling, almost 55 per cent of the country and all of southern India would have voted for their parliamentary representative and the phase is dotted with key contests, some of them being Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Azam Khan versus BJP’s Jaya Prada, Congress veteran Mallikarjun Kharge versus Umesh Jadhav, who quit as a Congress MLA and is now contesting as a BJP candidate, Congress’ Shashi Tharoor against BJP’s Rajasekaran in Thiruvananthapuram, and NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule versus BJP’s Kanchan Kul.
Azam Khan recently courted controversy after he hit out at Jaya Prada in a series of widely condemned comments, saying, “For 10 years the person sucked the blood of Rampur, I held that person’s finger and brought the person to Rampur. You made the person your representative for 10 years. I realised in 17 days that the underwear beneath is of the khaki colour”.
A 72-hour ban was subsequently imposed on him by the Election Commission, an act which his son claimed was done because he is a Muslim. A case was also filed against Khan.
Jaya Prada, who was expelled from the Samajwadi Party in 2010, earlier alleged she was harassed, on Khan’s orders, during her time in the party. She responded to the “underwear” remark by asking the people of Rampur to vote for her to protect women against Mr Khan.
Rampur is currently held by Nepal Singh of the BJP. Uttar Pradesh has 80 Lok Sabha seats and is a key battleground in general elections.
Congress’ Mallikarjun Kharge versus BJP’s Umesh Jadhav
Umesh Jadav, who resigned as Chincholi Congress MLA and joined BJP on March 6, is the BJP’s candidate on the Gulbarga Lok Sabha seat in Karnataka. He is taking on veteran Congress leader Mallikarjuna Kharge, who won all the 11 elections he has fought for the state assembly and Parliament.
Jadhav has focussed on Kharge’s anti-incumbency, the Modi wave and the growing discontent within the Gulbarga unit of the Congress. He earlier exuded confidence and said that defeating sitting senior Congress MP Mallikarjun Kharge in the election is not difficult. “If people decide, even a strong man can be defeated in the election.” He alleged that there are anguish among Congress leaders against Kharge and is son Priyank Kharge and hence senior leaders like A B Maalakaraddi quit that party and joined the BJP.
Jadhav was among the four rebel MLAs who had skipped the Congress legislative party meets in the past despite having being issued whips and show-cause notices. The Congress had on February 8 unanimously decided to initiate disqualification proceedings against the four under the anti-defection law. Rumours were abuzz since early January that Jadhav was in talks with the BJP leadership and was likely to contest from a BJP ticket in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls from Kalaburgi.
Congress’ Shashi Tharoor versus BJP’s Rajasekaran
Post the Sabarimala agitation, the Thiruvananthapuram constituency faces a bellwether fight in Kerala. Incumbent Congress MP Dr Shashi Tharoor, is up against a confident BJP nominee Kummanam Rajasekaran, who is making this a fight to “protect faith” and sees Thiruvananthapuram as their best chance. The Left Front has also fielded senior leader, former minister and sitting MLA C Divakaran into the poll fray who is fighting to regain CPM’s lost pride, having come a poor third in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
With Sabarimala as one of the major issues this election in Thiruvananthapuram, Tharoor is hoping for a mandate, the third time in a row. During his campaigns, he asked people to vote for him based on the work he has done in the constituency over the past 10 years.
Kummanam in his campaigns, promised people that their traditions and beliefs will be protected. “Irrespective of caste, creed or religion all are worried. Now it is in Sabarimala tomorrow it could be the mosque of the church. The interference of a secular government in a temple or church is not at all tolerable. Sabarimala is an issue for the people,” he had said.
Shashi Tharoor, on the other hand, said that Congress is the only party that has stood by believers and tried to find a solution to their problem by filing a review petition in the Supreme Court.
NCP’s Supriya Sule versus BJP’s Kanchan Kul
Among 14 Lok Sabha constituencies in Maharashtra that will go to polls on Tuesday are the three crucial battlegrounds in the Western Maharashtra belt where the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress are seeking to regain lost ground.
In Baramati, Pawar’s family bastion for decades, daughter and sitting MP Supriya Sule is seeking re-election for the third time in a contest marked by intense campaigning by senior BJP leaders, including party chief Amit Shah and CM Devendra Fadnavis. BJP has fielded Kanchan Kul, wife of MLA Rahul Kul of the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha (RSP) from here. The constituency is at the centre of Sharad Pawar’s stronghold stretching through Maharashtra’s “sugar belt”.
In 2014 general elections, Sule had defeated Mahadev Jankar of the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha by 69,000 votes, down from her 3.36 lakh victory margin in 2009.
The third phase will see all the seats in Gujarat (26), Kerala (20), Goa (2), Dadra and Nagar Haveli (1) and Daman and Diu (1) go to polls. Besides, polling will be held in four seats in Assam, five in Bihar, seven in Chhattisgarh, one in Jammu and Kashmir, 14 in Karnataka, 14 in Maharashtra, six in Odisha, 10 in Uttar Pradesh, and five in West Bengal.