India Starts Voting In Lok Sabha Poll, 102 Seats, 21 States In 1st Phase

The 2024 election is largely expected to be a NDA vs INDIA battle, with the BJP banking heavily (again) on the 'Modi factor' and support from the Hindi heartland to trump a fledgling Congress-led alliance.

India Starts Voting In Lok Sabha Poll, 102 Seats, 21 States In 1st Phase

The 2024 Lok Sabha election will take place over seven phases with results due June 4 (File)

New Delhi:

The first phase of the 2024 Lok Sabha election - a 44-day, seven-phase democratic exercise to elect a new government - begins this morning with over 16.63 crore voters, including 35.67 lakh first-timers, heading to 1.87 lakh polling booths set up in 102 seats across 21 states and union territories.

Voting will run from 8 AM to 6 PM, with a 60-minute window for voters who reach polling stations before the cut-off time and are in queue when the booths close. The results will be out on June 4.

The 2024 election is largely expected to be a NDA vs INDIA battle, with the ruling BJP banking heavily (again) on the 'Modi factor' and entrenched support from the Hindi heartland to trump a fledgling Congress-led alliance with only one electoral win - the Chandigarh mayoral election - to its name.

The INDIA bloc has exuded confidence over the past days and weeks, insisting it senses a wave of change, driven by dissatisfaction over unemployment and a cost of living crisis, as well as concern over the condition of religious and socio-economic minorities, that will lead to the BJP's defeat.

The NDA vs INDIA war could come down, experts suggest, to how well each side does in key states, with the BJP alliance hoping for improved performances from the south to add to the very large bundle of seats it expects from Hindi-speaking states. The Congress alliance is seen as hoping for a reverse scenario - it will want to make a big dent in the BJP's northern strongholds while maintaining a relative shut-out in the south, where its enemy has always struggled, except for Karnataka.

That said, when the dust settles, and the votes are counted, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is widely tipped to win a third consecutive term despite what could be a stiffer test from the opposition.

The BJP has set its alliance an ambitious target - to win 400+ seats - 47 more than it won in the last election. The party's personal target is an equally ambitious 370 seats - 63 more than the last time.

In 2019 the primary opposition alliance - then the Congress-led UPA - got just 90 seats.

Lok Sabha Election Phase 1 Seats

All 39 of Tamil Nadu's seats and 12 of Rajasthan's 25, including high-profile constituencies like Bikaner, Alwar, Jaipur, and Jaipur Rural, will vote in this first phase. Also in play today are eight of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, which has been dominated by the Bharatiya Janata Party in recent polls.

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Six seats in Madhya Pradesh, including Chhindwara - Congress stalwart Kamal Nath's family bastion - vote today. Sitting MP Nakul Nath, who is the ex-Chief Minister's son, is the Congress candidate.

Uttarakhand, which has five Lok Sabha seats, votes today too.

Maharashtra and Assam will also send five seats to the polls. In Maharashtra, which has 48 in total, the headline contest is in Nagpur, which is Union Minister Nitin Gadkari's stronghold. Out of Assam's 14 seats, voting will take place in Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Kaziranga, Sonitpur, and Lakhimpur.

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Bihar - widely expected to be swept by the BJP and its on-again ally, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) - will see voting in four of its 40 seats, including Jamui and Gaya.

Three seats in Bengal - where the BJP and the ruling Trinamool Congress will lock horns once again, in what will certainly be a volatile election - will vote today. All three - Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, and Alipurduar - are in the crucial North Bengal region the Trinamool is keen to win back from its rival.

The remaining six north-eastern states - Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, and Tripura - are also voting. Nine of the 10 seats here go to the polls today.

In the Arunachal West seat, Union Minister Kiren Rijiju is looking for a third straight win.

Sikkim's sole Lok Sabha seat also votes today, as do the single-seat constituencies of Andaman and Nicobar, Lakshadweep, and Puducherry. The Maoist-hit Bastar seat in Chhattisgarh (which has 11 seats) and Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir (five), round out the seats voting in this first phase.

NDTV Battleground | Modi Factor vs Congress Guarantees In Karnataka

Tamil Nadu is expected to see a three-way contest between the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the opposition BJP and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which were allies till an acrimonious split last year. The BJP must now rely on smaller allies in a state that, in the past, has never warmed to its nationalist agenda; in 2019 it got less than 3.7 per cent of the votes.

Lok Sabha Phase 1 Seat Details

Perhaps the biggest headline state in this first phase is Tamil Nadu.

The southern state has been bombarded by the BJP in recent weeks; the Prime Minister has made nearly a dozen visits in the past few weeks as he looks to improve on a return of zero seats and a vote share of less than 3.7 per cent from five years ago. Any gain will be hard-fought, given the BJP has been dumped by ally AIADMK, which is one of only two major parties in the state, and the ruling DMK-Congress combine thumped all comers in the 2019 general election and 2021 Assembly poll.

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The BJP's 'Mission South' push needs a strong result from Tamil Nadu and Kerala (which votes in the second phase on April 26) - two states that have never given the party any favour. In his rallies, Mr Modi has launched fierce attacks on Chief Minister MK Stalin and the Congress, but, notably, refrained from targeting the AIADMK. Indeed, the Prime Minister has lavished praise on party icon J Jayalalithaa, perhaps in the hope of flipping voters sitting on the fence between the two sides.

READ | Battleground Tamil Nadu: Without Major Allies, Will Modi Factor Work?

Part of the Hindi heartland, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh were won by the BJP in state polls last year, and will likely vote for the lotus symbol once again. In 2019 the party won 24 (of 25) and 28 (of 29) seats from these states. In Madhya Pradesh the sole Congress win was in Chhindwara.

The BJP won all five of Uttarakhand's seats last time and will expect an encore this year.

In UP the party has been all-but-unbeatable in recent polls, winning 62 of 80 seats in 2019 and 71 five years earlier. This year, of the eight seats in the first phase, the BJP holds three, which includes Kairana, Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan's Rampur bastion, and Varun Gandhi's Pilibhit seat.

Mr Gandhi, though, will not defend his seat, the BJP has decided.

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Seven seats in Bihar and Bengal vote today, including the BJP's newfound bastions in northern Bengal and the Jamui seat in Bihar, which is the stronghold of LJP leader Chirag Paswan. The LJP boss, however, has opted against defending the seat and has fielded brother-in-law Arun Bharti.

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Bihar and Bengal have 82 Lok Sabha seats between them. In 2019 in Bihar, the BJP and its allies - the JDU and the LJP - effected a clean sweep. In Bengal the party stunned the Trinamool by picking up 18 seats - 16 more than the 2014 election - and a massive 22.25 per cent jump in vote share.

For the BJP, strong showings here will be crucial, not only to meet its target, but maintain the balance of power in its favour ahead of Assembly polls in 2025 (Bihar) and 2026 (Bengal).