Hyderabad: A bitter campaign came to an end on Sunday in the Nellore Lok Sabha and 18 Andhra Pradesh legislative assembly constituencies for Tuesday's by-polls, which are being seen as a semifinal before the 2014 general elections.
At the stroke of 5 pm, all the political parties and candidates stopped canvassing while the Election Commission ordered all non-locals to leave the constituencies.
State Chief Electoral Officer Bhanwarlal has directed police to search all hotels, lodges, guest houses, function halls and residential schools in the constituencies spread over 12 districts to ensure that no non-local stays there.
The election authorities have banned distribution of voter slips by political parties, sending of bulk SMSes, publication or broadcast of opinion or exit polls.
The by-elections are witnessing a keen contest among ruling Congress, main opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP), and YSR Congress Party (YSRCP).
Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are major contenders in Parkala, the only assembly segment going to polls in Telangana region.
The arrest of YSRCP leader YS Jagan Mohan Reddy by the CBI on May 27 in illegal assets case may have kept him away from the electioneering but the entire campaigning revolved around him.
While Jagan and the corruption allegedly committed by him were the target of both Congress and TDP, his mother YS Vijayamma and sister Sharmila tried to turn the tables on the rivals by evoking sympathy. They accused Congress and TDP of colluding to send Mr Jagan to jail.
Mr Jagan's absence was expected to benefit Congress and TDP but his mother and sister sent the alarm bells ringing in their camps by attracting huge crowds wherever they went.
Vijayamma also made her husband and former chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy's death a poll issue by voicing her doubts over the helicopter crash.
The campaigning not only witnessed bitter attacks by the political rivals but also set a record of sorts with police seizing over Rs.40 crore cash and valuables.
In the last minute bid to woo the voters, the leaders of all the three parties actively campaigned on Sunday.
Congress MP and Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi campaigned in Nellore while YSRCP honourary president Vijayamma and Sharmila, TDP president and former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu addressed election meetings in Tirupati.
Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy and state Congress chief Botsa Satyanarayana, who intensively campaigned during last 10 days, stayed in the state capital Sunday to supervise the party's campaign.
The fact that two central ministers Vayalar Ravi and Ghulam Nabi Azad and almost the entire state cabinet campaigned for the Congress, show the importance the party is attaching to the by-elections.
BJP senior leader Sushma Swaraj addressed the lone election meeting at Parkala in Warangal district, promising to deliver a separate Telangana state. For TRS, its chief K Chandrasekhara Rao was the star campaigner in Parkala.
While 13 candidates are in fray in Nellore parliamentary constituency, as many as 242 candidates are testing their political fortunes in 18 assembly constituencies.
There are 23 contestants for Ongole seat followed by 19 each in Tirupati and Rajampet. Narasannapet and Polavaram segments have six candidates each, the lowest.
In Nellore constituency, Mekapati Rajamohan Reddy of YSRCP is locked in a keen battle with former union minister T. Subbarami Reddy of Congress. Rajamohan Reddy, who was elected on Congress ticket in 2009 elections, resigned last year after switching loyalties to YSRCP.
The by-elections to 17 assembly seats were necessitated by the disqualification of Congress rebels who had joined YSRCP. Tirupati assembly seat fell vacant following the election of Chiranjeevi to Rajya Sabha.