Round Three of Elections 2004 unfolds in 83 seats across seven states.
The NDA, which holds 40 seats, does not have much room for improvement except in Uttar Pradesh. The task for the alliance is to guard its territory and pick up new seats wherever possible to beat the hung House scare.
For the Congress, the challenge is to improve its tally of 19 on hostile ground to stay in the fight.
All eyes are on Uttar Pradesh, as 30 seats in the crucial heartland state go to polls.
The BJP, which believes it has not done too well in the first round in the state, is hoping to make up with more seats this time. The stakes are equally high for the Samajwadi Party and the BSP. The Congress will be hoping to sustain the revival seen in the eastern region.
In 1999, the Samajwadi Party picked up 13 of the 30 seats. The BSP followed with eight seats while the BJP got seven and the Congress two.
This time, the BJP has campaigned hard, hoping to double its tally. The party expects Muslim votes to split but the Yadav (Samajwadi) and Jatav (BSP) blocks have proved impregnable. Brahmins, Thakurs and Banias are drifting away from the party in places. But the BJP’s biggest worry is to ensure a respectable turnout in urban booths, particularly in Lucknow.
The Samajwadi Party, which virtually swept the area stretching from Agra to Etawah in 1999, is battling the personal unpopularity of its MPs and a split in Muslim votes. But it is hoping Mulayam Singh Yadav’s “charisma” will see it through.
Seats to watch: The Prime Minister’s constituency, Lucknow. Lawyer Ram Jethmalani is contesting against him.
Murli Manohar Joshi is in the battle from Allahabad.
Mulayam Singh Yadav is in the field from Mainpuri and his son, Akhilesh, is fighting from Kannauj.
Twelve seats in the Mahakaushal region and eastern Madhya Pradesh give their verdict. In Assembly polls, this was the region that traditionally backed the Congress. Four months ago, however, the party was wiped out here as in the rest of the state. In the Lok Sabha, the BJP has been strong and at present holds nine of the 12 seats.
The Congress, which faces an uphill task, hopes to do better in this round than the next one when the remaining 17 seats will go to polls. But any difference will be marginal.
Led by Uma Bharti in the state, the BJP is riding high on the “Lodhiana Express” — support from Lodhs and other OBCs. But the exit poll projections have cheered the Congress and it is gunning for four seats in this round.
Seat to watch: Chhindwara, where sitting MP Kamal Nath of the Congress faces a fight from Prahlad Patel of the BJP.
All 25 seats vote in the state that’s the pollsters’ nightmare. In December, the BJP swept to power after all surveys had predicted another term for Ashok Gehlot. This time, the projections are that the BJP will improve its 1999 tally of 16 seats. After the exit poll-induced scare, the party has gone into a campaign overdrive and fielded Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani to address more rallies than scheduled.
The BJP is well placed here and the Congress has yet to recover from its shock rout. But two factors might alter the situation somewhat. The powerful Jat community that holds the key to seven seats and is important in another three is less enthusiastic about the BJP now. In December, they backed the party totally to oust Gehlot. Now that he is gone, the community’s opposition to the Congress, the party they have traditionally voted, has weakened. Also, government employees, who played a key role in the Congress defeat, are not enthusiastic. But the good news for the BJP is the Rajput consolidation behind the party.
Seats to watch: Dharmendra makes his debut in Bikaner.
Another debutant, Sachin Pilot, fights for his father’s seat in Dausa.
Balram Jakhar is in the contest in Churu.
Vasundhara Raje’s son Dushyant Singh tests the waters in Jhalawar.
Jaswant Singh’s son Manavendra is in the fray from Barmer.
The last 12 seats to vote in Bihar. These fall in the eastern and northeastern part, where the NDA has the edge over the RJD-Congress-LJP-NCP-CPM alliance. All five partners have fielded candidates.
In 1999, the Congress-RJD had not done too badly in the region, winning four of their total eight seats from here. Seven were won by the NDA.
This time, the NDA is sound in five seats and the RJD-led alliance in two. For the remaining five, the contest will be close. But it is each seat to itself, with local factors playing the decisive role.
Three Union ministers are in the fray and several criminals, including Pappu Yadav, Suraj Bhan and Ranjeet Don of the CAT paper leak, are also testing their strength.
Seat to watch: Madhepura, where Laloo Prasad Yadav will be raring to avenge his defeat at the hands of Sharad Yadav in 1999.
Two seats in Arunachal Pradesh and the lone Nagaland seat give their verdict. All three are held by the Congress, but with friendly governments in the states, the BJP stands a good chance this time.
Anantnag will have a three-cornered contest. PDP president Mehbooba Mufti is pitted against Mehboob Beg of the National Conference and Yusuf Tarigami of the CPM. The National Conference holds the seat at present.
The main fight is between Mehbooba and Mehboob. Tarigami could cut into the anti-National Conference votes.