Much at stake
The third phase of Lok Sabha elections today will mark polling in 117 constituencies spread across 13 states and two Union Territories. While all constituencies of Kerala, Gujarat, Goa, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu will vote in the third phase, some seats from UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Assam will join the fray with a solitary seat of Anantnag in Jammu & Kashmir witnessing second part of its three-phase voting. Due to security concerns, polling in East Tripura was deferred from the second phase to the third. A number of key constituencies feature in the third phase as stalwarts of the political spectrum fight it off to secure the maximum seats. A comprehensive win for either Congress or BJP in the third phase will be significantly beneficial in the cumulative tally with regional parties hoping to amass a significant share. In Gujarat, as many as 573 candidates are in the fray for 26 Lok Sabha seats. While the state campaigning in BJP's bastion has been largely around Modi and his second term, making local BJP candidates irrelevant, there is no Modi from Vadodara this time. However, one simply cannot rule out party president Amit Shah making his electoral debut from Gandhinagar replacing senior leader LK Advani. BJP continues to maintain a strong hold on Gujarat's urban constituencies – Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot – which means that it should not be much work for Shah. But same may not be the case in the Saurashtra region, North Gujarat and the tribal belt. Adding uncertainty on a certain land for BJP is the outcome of the December 2017 assembly polls where BJP won a closely fought battle by a whisker. Agrarian distress remains the single-largest issue in the state with Modi sure that Gujarat will provide a similar mandate as it did back in 2014 when BJP swept all seats. Kerala remains a battleground mainly between Left Democratic Front and Congress with BJP set to play spoilsport by dividing the vote. Congress and its allies will be hoping to better their 2014 tally with Congress fielding party president Rahul Gandhi from Wayanad. While Thiruvananthapuram rests in the capable hands of Shashi Tharoor, Pathanamthitta may see BJP score some brownie points due to Sabarimala row following its inclusion in their manifesto. But even so, it is likely that BJP draws minimum seats in the southern state while Congress and Left front fight it out for a majority. Goa's two seats will see a traditional fight between BJP and Congress but it is Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) which will be instrumental in deciding whose way Goa goes. While BJP recovers from the setback of Parrikar's demise, MGP has backed two of Congress's candidates making it an opposite picture of 2014 when it aided BJP in winning the South Goa seat. It has been touted that livelihoods affected by mining ban will decide the fate of Goan politics. Maharashtra will see some of NCP strongholds voting today with NCP chief Sharad Pawar's daughter, Supriya Sule contesting from the party's bastion in Baramati. Comprehensively, Maharashtra, across phases, is set for a BJP-Shiv Sena combine against NCP-Congress one. While Congress-NCP combine has been dominant in the state's sugar belt, befitting challenge from BJP-Sena might change the narrative being the dominant force in the 2014 elections. Maharashtra faces a visible farmer discontent which may twist the outcome. Karnataka will see allies Congress and The Janata Dal (Secular) (JD-S) up against BJP who has a stronghold in most of the 14 constituencies that will poll today. Uttar Pradesh is set for a massive showdown with both BJP and Congress's chances being reduced drastically by a strong SP-BSP-RLD, especially with the election being held in the Yadav belt. Samajwadi Party strongholds of Mainpuri, Badaun, and Sambhal will likely see an alliance victory, all the more since Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav, and Akhilesh Yadav's stage presence has given their alliance the much-needed boost. Mainpuri will be especially challenging for BJP which has never won there.
BJP's Jaya Prada is contesting against SP's Azam Khan in Rampur with the latter having served a 72-hour ban for controversial comments on his actor-turned-politician competitor. With mob-lynching and anti-incumbency influencing people's mandate, BJP's chances appear slim despite their landslide victory in the assembly polls in 2017. In Chhattisgarh, while BJP is all set to fight the anti-incumbency by removing all of its sitting MPs, it faces stiff competition from Congress owing to their recent victory in assembly polls and subsequent delivery of poll promises. The mood that marked Congress's return to power after 15 years is likely to be carried over to the Lok Sabha polls. In West Bengal, a four-way competition between TMC, Congress, BJP and CPI will most probably split the results, though Congress and TMC are likely to share the spoils. In an ally-centric battle, Bihar will see BJP allies Janata Dal (United) (JDU) and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) lock horns with Congress allies Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Vikasheel Insaan Party (VIP). Lower Assam's 4 seats will be eyed by Congress and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) with both seeking favour over their abject objection to BJP's rigid stance on Citizenship Amendment Bill. In the militancy-hit region of Anantnag, the second part of the three-staged poll will be held with security measures beefed up due to volatile districts – Shopian, Anantnag, Kulgam and Pulwama – in the segment. Phase 3 will be crucial to the grand outcome and mandate will aptly reflect the underlying local issues. What is essential for today's phase three is a greater voter turnout after Anantnag witnessed a comparatively low turnout with other states doing moderately better. It should not be forgotten than voter turnout can single-handedly change the narrative of mandate and hence it is important that every last citizen comes out to vote.