Toatal seven seats of the national capital also voting today where the incumbent BJP, Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress are locked in a fight on all seven seats. The Congress is looking to bounce back after ending up at the third spot in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The lead up to the polls has not been without drama, with allegations and counter-allegations flying, and it had all the trappings of a soap opera that could give the daily shows a run for their money. The high-octane poll campaigning in the national capital ended on Friday but not before it saw a plethora of stars descending here to campaign for their respective parties. If Hema Malini and Sunny Deol provided the Bollywood quotient to the saffron party’s campaign, Raj Babbar and Nagma added the star quotient to the Congress. Prakash Raj, Swara Bhaskar and Gul Panag campaigned for the AAP.
The seven seats will see 164 candidates battling it out of which 18 are women. Prominent among them are former chief minister Sheila Dikshit from northeast Delhi, BJP’s incumbent MP Meenakshi Lekhi, who is contesting from New Delhi, and Atishi. BJP’s incumbent MP Manoj Tiwari is up against Dikshit for the Northeast Delhi seat and has already said that her entry has made the poll contest “one of the most interesting in the country”. AAP’s Dilip Pandey is also in the fray from the seat. Other prominent candidates in the race include veteran Congress leader Sheila Dikshit, Olympian boxer Vijender Singh, who is making his electoral debut from South Delhi, Union minister Harsh Vardhan from Chandni Chowk, and cricketer-turned-politician Gautam Gambhir.
Voting started at 7 am on Sunday and it is scheduled to go on till 6 pm. The 48 hour-period from 6 pm Friday to 6 pm Sunday, known as the silence period, will also be observed as ‘dry day’. A total of 13,819 polling stations will be set up at 2,700 locations in Delhi, with one model polling station in each of the 70 assembly segments. Seventeen polling stations will be staffed only by women.
As many as 523 polling locations have been identified as critical and 60,000 personnel, including those of the Delhi Police, Home Guards and paramilitary, will be on their toes to ensure that there is no untoward incident. The campaign got off to a slow start as alliance talks between the AAP and the Congress lingered on till the last days of nomination, but it gained momentum over the last fortnight with senior leaders drawing huge crowds at mega rallies and roadshows in the national capital.
The campaign reached a crescendo in its last lap, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding a massive rally at the iconic Ramlila Maidan here, Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressing two public meetings, and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra taking out two roadshows in the city. From trying to strike a personal chord with voters in parks at six am to holding door-to-door campaigns till late night, the candidates literally sweated it out in the oppressive heat as mercury crossed the 40-degree Celsius mark.
While the BJP’s campaign revolved around the party’s high-pitched nationalism narrative and the popularity of Modi, the Congress kept him in the cross hairs and sought to hard sell its minimum income guarantee scheme, Nyay. The AAP, on the other hand, focussed on the demand for full statehood for Delhi. Candidates also tried to out-maneuver each other before the poll body. AAP candidates Atishi and Raghav Chadha sought rejection of nomination papers of their BJP rivals Gautam Gambhir and Ramesh Bidhuri, respectively.
The ruling Trinamool Congress, BJP, the Congress and Left Front are battling for supremacy in West Bengal’s Tamluk, Kanthi, Ghatal, Medinipur, Bankura, Bishnupur, Purulia and Jhargram constituencies. In Jharkhand, state minister Chandraprakash Choudhary, former cricketer Kirti Azad and former Chief Minister Madhu Koda’s wife Gita are among the 67 candidates whose fate will be sealed in this phase of the elections. Polling is being held in Dhanbad, Giridih, Jamshedpur and Singhbhum, all won by the BJP in 2014. Congress leader Digvijaya Singh faces the BJP’s Pragya Thakur — an accused in the Malegaon blasts case — in Bhopal today. Digvijaya Singh had accepted the challenge to contest from the BJP stronghold on a dare from Chief Minister Kamal Nath. Bhopal has been with the BJP since 1989.