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Fourth phase of polling could decide whether BJP returns to power or not

Ramakrishna Upadhya | Updated on: 29 April 2019, 16:06 IST
Modi shah

The Bharatiya Janata Party is facing a crucial test in the fourth phase of Lok Sabha elections on Monday as the BJP and its allies have 56 out of 72 seats to defend in territories less congenial to them than in 2014.

The BJP is defending all of 13 seats each in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, five out of six in Madhya Pradesh and eight out of17 in Maharashtra, but after the 2018 debacle in Assembly elections and the BSP-SP entering into a ghatbandhan in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP should be ready for losses – but how significant will be the losses be is the moot question.

Starting at the bottom in this phase with just two seats in its kitty, the Congress will be looking for a major revival in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and even Maharshtra in alliance with the NCP. If the Congress does succeed in making substantial gains, it will automatically emerge as a challenger to the BJP to form the next government. As of now, of course, it remains a big if.

Even with a marginal revival, the dynasts in the Congress are out to encash it immediately as Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath has put up his son Nakul Nath to defend Chindwara constituency, which Nath Sr has represented in Parliament nine times.

In the neighbouring Rajasthan, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has offered political debut to his son Vaibhav Gehlot to take on Gajendra Singh Shekhawat of the BJP from Jodhpur. Jodhpur has been Gehlot family’s bastion for decades, and there is no better cusion for a bruising political fight than when your own dad is the chief minister.

In Maharshtra, the elections are being held in three premier Mumbai city constutiencies Mumbai North, Mumbai South and Bumbai North Central where some of the the world’s richest and the most glamourous personalities live and they are natorious for not turning up for vote.

But this time, they seem to have colletively decided to change their image, as on Monday, a beevy of bigwigs, including Mukhesh Ambani, Anil Ambani, the Bachchan family, Amir Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Priyanka Chopra and scores of others trooped out in the sun and voted.

In Mumbai South, interestingly, Reliance company chairman Mukhesh Ambani has openly come out in support of Congress nominee Milind Deora, which he wouldn’t normally do, but his son balanced it out by appearing in one of the Prime Minister’s rallies.

In Mumbai North, the Congress has persuaded erstwhile actress Urmila Matodkar to make her political debut against Gopal Shetty of the BJP, who had defeated state Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam by 4.5 lakh margin in 2014.

In Mumbai North Central, it is a battle royale between two dynasts, Poonam Mahajan (BJP) against Priya Dutt (Cong). Priya, a 2-time MP and daughter of legendary actor Sunil Dutt, had lost to Poonam in 2014 and she was reportedly reluctant to contest this time.

West Bengal’s 42 seats have been spread over seven phases as the Election Commission feared that given the surcharged atmosphere in the state, it would be a huge challenge to ensure free and fair polls. Monday’s violence in Asansol, where singer-turned politician and BJP’s Union minister Babul Supriyo is fighting to retain his seat against another famous personality, Moon Moon Sen, is indicative of the intensity of the fight.

Behraumpur in West Bengal – which is one of the only two seats that Congress had won in 2014 -- is a prime example of the Mahaghatbandhan going sour. Former Bengal Congress chief and 4-time MP Adhir Ranjan Choudhury is seeking re-election here, but Mamata Bannerjee is determined to defeat him as he had raised the chit fund scam issue in Parliament, but neither Sonia nor Rahul Gandhi had apbraided him for criticising an ally.

The cracks in Ghatbandhan is also evident in Farukabad in Uttar Pradesh as the SP has given this seat to Manoj Agarwal of the BSP in a seat won by Mukesh Rajput of the BJP by 1.5 lakh margin in 2014. But, Salman Khurshid of the Congress has made it into a triangular fight and if he manages to get the disgruntled SP supporters and the minorities to vote for him, it might just help the BJP to retain this seat.

The Kanpur seat, which veteran Murli Manohar Joshi had won by a margin of 2.2 lakh last time, but sidelined now along with another veteran LK Advani, has gone to Satyadev Pachauri, a Brahmin to defend. The Congress has put up Sriprakash Jaiswal, a former minister in the UPA regime, who was caught up with the coal tendering scam that singed the Manmohan Singh government.

Begusarai in Bihar is witnessing the colourful but controversial former president of the JNU students’ union, Kanhaiya Kumar taking on Giriraj Maharaj of the BJP. Kanhaiya Kumar, who has joined the CPI, would have had a good chance of entering parliament, had Tejaswi Yadav of the RJD conceded this seat to an ally. But, he refused and fielded Tanveer Hassan, who had lost by 58,000 votes last time to the BJP. Now, it is enybody’s game.

Last but not the least, the six seats going to polls in this phase in Odisha, will be closely watched. Baijayant Panda or simply Jay Panda, who was the right-hand man of Naveen Patnaik, recently jaoined the BJP. He is contesting from Kendrapra constituency which he had won by over 2 lakh votes on a BJD ticket last time, but now has become the the BJP’s mascot – some say, even a future chief minister candidate – in Odisha.

The gains that the BJP may or may not make in states like West Bengal and Odisha will perhaps decide whether the BJP and the NDA will return to power when the votes are counted on May 23.

First published: 29 April 2019, 15:18 IST
Ramakrishna Upadhya @rkupadhya9

Ramakrishna Upadhya is a senior journalist based in Bangalore, currently working with TV9. Earlier, he was with Deccan Herald, The Telegraph and The Indian Express.