The fifth and final phase of the most keenly fought Lok Sabha elections in recent times will conclude on Wednesday with polling to 86 seats, but there is no clear picture of who would form the next government.
The general elections for 543 seats of the lower house of Parliament are widely expected to throw a hung verdict, but the struggle for power is mainly among the ruling Congress-led UPA coalition, the BJP-led NDA and the Third Front headed by the Left parties.
Campaigning during the month long elections have been acerbic, with leaders attacking the character and qualities of one another while the common people gave vent to their anger by firing footwear missiles on the likes of none other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and BJP's PM hopeful L K Advani, among others.
Polling has been completed to 457 Lok Sabha seats since the exercise began on April 16 amid stray violence that left over 20 dead. Results will be out on May 16.
The final leg would see election of 86 MPs and among the contenders are Congress' P Chidambaram and Md Azharuddin, BJP's Maneka and Varun Gandhi and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, DMK's T R Baalu, A Raja, Dayanidhi Maran and M K Azhagiri, MDMK's Vaiko, TC chief Mamata Banerjee and SP's Jayaprada.
A party or a coalition needs 272 seats in the Lok Sabha to stake claim to form a government.
The Lok Sabha has 545 members, but elections are held to 543 seats as two members are nominated from the Anglo-Indian community.
Congress' Mani Shankar Aiyar and Sajjad Gani Lone of People's Conference also feature in the list of prominent names in this leg, in which 10.78 crore voters can choose from 1,432 candidates including 93 women.
Elections would be held to all 39 seats in the key state of Tamil Nadu and four seats in Himachal Pradesh, two in Jammu and Kashmir, nine in Punjab, 14 in Uttar Pradesh, 11 in West
Bengal, five in Uttarakhand and the lone one seat each in both Chandigarh and Puducherry.
The Left Parties, whom Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi had sent feelers to for a post-poll tie-up, too have indicated that they were keeping options open.
"Let the elections be over. Let the results come...After May 16, we will see," said CPM general secretary Prakash Karat, whose party had withdrawn support to the Congress-led UPA over the Indo-US civil nuclear deal.
Elsewhere, Jayalalithaa denied that the AIADMK was in secret talks with others for an alliance.
Rahul Gandhi's reference to Jayalalithaa in the context of alliance at a press conference in Delhi last week had apparently upset the DMK, the Congress' ally in Tamil Nadu.
The Gandhi scion had later reassured the ally that it was very much Congress' partner for elections in the state and that the two would work together in other states as well.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi later appeared together with DMK president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi on the same platform at an election meeting, while Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh too had called on him.
Tamil Nadu is key as the DMK-Congress combine had swept all the 39 seats in the 2004 elections.
However, the DMK-Congress alliance appears to have been weakened by the exit of Left parties. The PMK and MDMK are now part of the AIADMK-led front in Tamil Nadu.
Elections would be held across 1.21 lakh polling booths. As many as 5,995 villages and hamlets have been identified as prone to intimidation and over 18,000 people troublemakers.
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