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Uphill task for Congress in tomorrow's star-studded round

New Delhi, May 6 (PTI): The Congress faces an uphill task on Wednesday, holding nearly half of the 64 seats that go to the polls in the penultimate round of the Lok Sabha elections.

Seemandhra and parts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal vote on Wednesday.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, the main rival of the Congress, has only five seats at stake on Wednesday, so it has everything to gain if it improves its performance in heartland Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar and Uttarakhand.

The fate of 1,737 candidates, including Rahul Gandhi (Amethi), his cousin Varun (Sultanpur), Union minister Beni Prasad Verma (Gonda), Ram Vilas Paswan (Hajipur), Rabri Devi and Rajiv Pratap Rudy (Saran) is in the hands of 18.47 crore voters who are eligible to cast their franchise.

Elections will also be held on Wednesday in Mandi in Himachal Pradesh where Pratibha, wife of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, is contesting while Anurag Thakur, sitting MP and son of former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal, is the candidate in Hamirpur.

Seemandhra, made up of Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra and accounting for 25 seats, will vote on Wednesday for both Lok Sabha and Assembly.

In the last two Parliamentary elections, Congress had done exceedingly well here and had contributed overwhelmingly to the making of the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre.

In 2009, the Congress had won 19 of the 25 seats in the region. It had also formed the government in Andhra Pradesh on both the occasions.

The demise of strongman Y.S. Rajashekhar Reddy shortly after the 2009 polls and the split in the party effected by his son Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy coupled with politics over division of the state have combined to pose big hurdles for the party in the current elections.

Besides, Andhra Pradesh, elections will be held in seven Lok Sabha constituencies in Bihar, 15 in UP, six in West Bengal, five in Uttarakhand, four in Himachal Pradesh and two in Jammu and Kashmir.

Stakes are also high for Telugu Desam Party leader Chandrababu Naidu, who had lost the assembly elections both in 2004 and 2009, and Jaganmohan Reddy, whose party is fighting the assembly elections for the first time.

In the outgoing Lok Sabha, TDP has four members while YSR Congress has two.

The fate of Union ministers V. Kishore Chandra Deo and M.M. Pallam Raju will be decided in Araku and Kakinada in North coastal Andhra.

In Uttar Pradesh, of the 15 seats going to polls on Wednesday, Congress has seven, while Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party have five and three respectively.

Seven seats are up for grabs in Bihar. Of this, the ruling Janata Dal (United) has four, while Rashtriya Janata Dal has two and BJP one.

In West Bengal, the Left parties, which had won all the six seats going to polls on Wednesday in the state, also face a stiff challenge from the ruling Trinamool Congress. Of the six seats, the CPI (M) has four and CPI and AIFB one each.

In the hill state of Uttarakhand, a keen and direct contest between Congress and BJP is on the cards in the five seats. Chief Minister Harish Rawat's wife Renuka is making her maiden attempt to enter the Lok Sabha through Hardwar. In the last elections, Congress had won four of the five seats, leaving Tehri-Garwhal to BJP.

Similarly, in Himachal Pradesh, where the contest is straight between Congress and BJP, the saffron party had won three seats in the last elections.

With elections in two constituencies --Baramulla and Ladakh--in Jammu and Kashmir, polling will be completed in all the seven constituencies on Wednesday.


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