From Pilibhit To Coimbatore, Big Seats In 2024 Lok Sabha Election

All of Tamil Nadu's 39 seats will vote in this phase of the election, with the DMK-Congress Alliance, the AIADMK, and the BJP in a three-way fight in the state.

From Pilibhit To Coimbatore, Big Seats In 2024 Lok Sabha Election
New Delhi:

The 2024 Lok Sabha election begins this morning with voting for 102 seats across 21 states and union territories. The first of the seven phases in this election is also the largest, and will see all of Tamil Nadu's 39 and Uttarakhand's five seats vote, as well as 12 of Rajasthan's 25, eight of Uttar Pradesh's 80, six of Madhya Pradesh's 29, and five each from Maharashtra and Assam. Bihar and Bengal will send four and three seats to the polls in this phase, and Chhattisgarh one of 11. Sikkim and the north-eastern states will all but finish voting today; only one seat in Tripura will not vote.

Among the 102 seats in play there are many high-profile clashes between candidates from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP and opposition parties, whether that is the Congress, Bengal's ruling Trinamool, the Samajwadi Party, or the DMK from Tamil Nadu, or one of the other INDIA allies.

These are a selection of those prestige contests.

Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu) - 

The BJP's state unit boss, K Annamalai, has been fielded from one of the few seats - in a state where it polled less than 3.7 per cent of the votes in 2019 - where the party believes it has some traction. 

He faces the ruling DMK's Ganapathi P Rajkumar, who was the city's Mayor from 2014 to 2016. More significantly, he is a former AIADMK leader from the district. He joined the DMK in December 2020.

In 2019 the seat was won PR Natarajan of the CPIM by a margin of nearly 1.8 lakh votes.

A pugnacious, if divisive, political figure, Mr Annamalai was blamed by the BJP's former ally, the AIADMK, for the parties' break-up. That split was seen as a serious blow for a BJP looking to make its mark on Tamil Nadu, since it denied the saffron party a local anchor. The reaction, though, has been strong, with the Prime Minister launching a blitzkrieg of campaign rallies in the state, with the focus on Coimbatore and western Tamil Nadu, or Kongu Nadu, which is seen as AIADMK stronghold.

The tactic seems simple enough - look to capitalise on the recent alliance with the AIADMK. To that end the Prime Minister has attacked the DMK and the Congress, but praised late AIADMK icons J Jayalalithaa and MG Ramachandran, who were both former Chief Ministers. The BJP does also have some sway within Coimbatore itself, particularly after the serial blasts of 1998.

The BJP is not expected to make waves this election, but winning Coimbatore (and perhaps an improved vote share) will be seen as a statement, particularly with a state poll due in 2026.

Chennai South (Tamil Nadu) -

The Chennai South seat sees the return to electoral politics of former Telangana Governor and former Puducherry Lieutenant Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan, who faces a stern test from the DMK's Tamilachi Thangapandian. The AIADMK's J Jayavardhan makes it a three-cornered contest.

The Chennai South seat has been a DMK stronghold in recent years; TR Baalu held it from 1996 to 2004. Mr Jayavardhan won this seat in 2014. It is also a prestige seat since it contains the city's business hub - T Nagar - and is home to many of its big IT companies. 

The BJP (and the AIADMK) will hope to capitalise on criticism faced by the DMK during December's floods, when this part of the city was badly affected. They will also look to profit on any anti-incumbency against Ms Thangapandian, who is accused of neglecting the area, which she denies.

As with Coimbatore, the BJP will look to a strong showing in this seat to gauge how much of an impact the Prime Minister's campaign visits have had on Tamil Nadu voters.

Gaya (Bihar) -

Bihar's second-largest city is a major tourist attraction and a holy centre for three religions - Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism - as well as being mentioned in both the 'Ramayana' and 'Mahabharata'. It is also one of six Lok Sabha seats in the state reserved for Scheduled Castes.

The contest this year is between former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and his Hindustan Awami Morcha (Secular) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal's Kumar Sarvjeet, who was the MLA for the Bodh Gaya segment that falls within the parliamentary constituency.

This seat is worth keeping an eye on because it is, on paper, an easy win for the BJP-led NDA en route to its goal of a clean sweep in Bihar. Jitan Manjhi contested this seat in 2014 and 2009 but lost, heavily, to the JDU's Vijay Manjhi and BJP's Hari Manjhi. This time the JDU and the BJP are allies.

For the RJD, part of the Mahagathbandhan alliance (with the Congress) in the state and the INDIA bloc nationally, this could be a tough nut to crack. But a strong showing here today could help the opposition pick up momentum going into the contests.

Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh) -

The BJP has dropped sitting MP Varun Gandhi, who has been linked with what would be a big switch to the Congress, to join his cousins Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Varun Gandhi is a two-time BJP MP from Pilibhit, which has previously also sent his mother, Maneka Gandhi, to Parliament.

Mrs Gandhi is a six-time MP from Pilibhit. But neither mother nor son will contest this election, with the BJP opting for a big change, drafting in Congress turncoat Jitin Prasada to take on the Samajwadi Party (and INDIA) candidate Bhagwat Saran Gangwar. 

UP has 80 Lok Sabha seats and has, over the past elections, been a fortress for the BJP. Making dents in this fortress is crucial if the opposition is to unseat, or even unsettle, the saffron party, and winning Pilibhit will be a good first step in that direction.

Kairana (Uttar Pradesh) - 

A seat with a controversial recent history. Ahead of the 2017 state election several BJP leaders, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah, had alleged a large number of Hindus were forced to migrate from the area due to threats during the Samajwadi Party rule. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath raked up that controversy ahead of the 2021 state poll too. 

It didn't seem to have any effect though, with the SP winning both times. The Lok Sabha seat has been more even, with the BJP winning in 2014 and 2019. The Rashtriya Lok Dal won in 2014.

In 2019 the BJP's Pradeep Choudhary will look to defend his seat against the SP's Iqra Hasan, who will also be the joint INDIA bloc candidate. This should, in theory, maximise votes gained for Iqra Hasan as the opposition looks to wrest another seat from the BJP in the politically key state.

Rampur (Uttar Pradesh) -

Staying in UP, next up is Rampur - the stronghold of SP leader Azam Khan, who continues to exert immense sway despite being jailed. This seat is worth keeping an eye on because of the drama leading up to filing of nominations. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav's candidature and Azam Khan's pick both turned up to submit their papers, leading to a mini, intra-party face-off, 

Bastar (Chhattisgarh) - 

This is the only one of the state's 11 seats to vote this phase. Bastar is a Maoist hotspot, with encounters between rebel fighters and state security forces a common occurrence. In fact, just days before polling, 29 Maoists were killed in a massive gunfight in the area. 

In 2019 the seat was won by the Congress' Deepak Baij, who is also the party's state boss. More importantly, he was also one of the few who survived the ambush of a Congress convoy in 2013.

This seat is key not just because of the political narrative surrounding the Maoist threat or because it is one of only 11 seats in the state, but because Mr Baij's victory in 2019 snapped a six-election winning streak for the BJP; Baliram Kashyap won between 1998 and 2009, and his son, Dinesh Kashyap, won it twice more - 2011 and 2014 - after his death.

Cooch Behar (Bengal) -

One of three seats in Bengal voting in this phase, Cooch Behar is in North Bengal, which is increasingly viewed as a BJP stronghold in a state where the party is slowly but surely gaining ground on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool. All three seats in this phase, actually, were won by the BJP, and for the Trinamool, getting them back is a priority en route to defeating Mr Modi's party.

In 2019 the seat was won by junior Union Home Minister Nisith Pramanik, who has been fielded again. He faces the Trinamool's Jagadish Chandra Barma Basunia. 

Manipur Inner (Manipur) -

Against the backdrop of ethnic clashes in the north-eastern state in May last year, which led to over 200 people being killed and tens of thousands being displaced, the fight for the Manipur Inner seat will be keenly watched, since it was won by the BJP in the last election.

Dr Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, the junior Education and External Affairs Minister, will not defend his seat, though. The BJP has tasked Thounaojam Basanta Kumar Singh with ensuring the Congress does not flip back this seat; the Congress' Thokchom Meinya won this three terms straight starting 2004.