Political honchos show their ‘power’ on roads as curtain comes down on campaign for biggest democratic festival

Campaigning in the bitterly fought marathon elections for the 16th Lok Sabha spread over five weeks drew to a close today as top leaders sought to muster a final show of strength in the ninth and concluding phase for 41 seats in three states that included Varanasi where Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal are in the fray.

The campaign marked by attacks and counter-attacks by leaders across the political spectrum and use of derogatory language sometimes through the 9 phases ended at 6 pm for 18 seats in Uttar Pradesh, 17 in West Bengal and six in Bihar.

Voting will take place on Monday.

Counting of votes in the world's largest exercise in democracy in which voters have turned up in large numbers will be taken up on 16 May with opinion polls projecting BJP of which Narendra Modi is the prime ministerial candidate to be the single largest party.

The ninth phase will witness the mother of all contests in Varanasi involving Modi, the Gujarat chief minister, and Kejriwal, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief. Five-time MLA from UP Ajay Rai is the Congress candidate. Modi is also fighting from Vadodara in his home state of Gujarat.

Polling was by and large peaceful in the previous eight phases barring incidents of Maoist violence in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

The country registered a record turnout of voters, surpassing the previous record in 1984, as 66.27 per cent voting was reported in 502 Lok Sabha seats where polling has been conducted in eight phases that began on 7 April. The 2009 elections recorded a 57.94 per cent turnout.

Modi spearheaded the BJP challenge and criss-crossed the country addressing scores of rallies besides holding innovative ‘chai par charcha’ meetings and also 3D video campaign.

The Nehru-Gandhi family made a vigorous push for votes with Rahul, his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and his sister Priyanka Gandhi leading the party challenge.

Sonia and Rahul are contesting from the family pocketborough in Rae Bareli and Amethi in UP where the Congress vice-president is pitted against BJP's actor-turned-politician Smriti Irani and AAP's youth leader Kumar Vishwas. 

A total of 606 candidates are in the fray for the ninth phase – 328 in UP, 188 in West Bengal and 90 in Bihar.

All the 18 parliamentary constituencies in UP that goes to polls on Monday are in the eastern part of the politically crucial state where 80 seats are at stake. OBCs, Muslims and Dalits form a significant part of electorate there.

This includes Azamgarh from where SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav is among the candidates. The former UP chief minister is contesting from eastern UP for the first time besides being in the fray from his traditional Mainpuri seat.

Union minister and Congress leader RPN Singh and Congress turncoat Jagdambika Pal, who joined BJP recently, mafia-don turned politician Mokhtar Ansari, senior BJP leader Kalraj Mishra, Yogi-turned politician Yogi Adityanath, Bhojpuri movie star Ravi Kishan and former prime minister 
Chandrashekhar’s son Neeraj Shekhar are among other candidates in the fray in UP.

In West Bengal, prominent TMC candidates in the race are Sudip Bandyopadhyay, Dinesh Trivedi and Sougata Roy besides celebrities like actors Dipak Adhikari (Dev) and Tapas Paul.

Trinamool Yuva president Abhishek Banerjee, nephew of chief minister Mamata Banerjee, is also in the fray.

On the rival side, CPI-M’s Subhasini Ali is among the key candidates.

BJP nominee magician PC Sorcar (Junior) and WBPCC president Adhir Chowdhury, besides former West Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta of the CPI-M and former union minister Tapan Sikdar of the BJP, pitted against each other in Dum Dum, are the key contestants in the last phase.

In Bihar, filmmaker Prakash Jha and former union minister Raghubansh Prasad Singh are among the 90 contestants.

During the course of the no-holds barred campaign, the Election Commission also came under attack from BJP and Samajwadi Party.

The EC was targeted by BJP over denial of permission for Modi’s rally at the venue it wanted in Varanasi while it incurred the wrath of UP’s ruling party in connection with the ban on Azam Khan from campaigning following his alleged hate speeches.

Modi’s close aide Amit Shah, who is UP’s BJP incharge, was also banned by EC from campaigning over an alleged hate speech. The ban was later lifted. 
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