The third and largest phase of the Lok Sabha elections has several big names vying for the top spot in 116 seats. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and BJP president Amit Shah are the heavyweights for phase three accompanied by several well-known Union ministers.
All 26 constituencies in Gujarat and 20 in Kerala go to vote today along with four seats in Assam, five in Bihar, seven in Chhattisgarh, 14 each in Karnataka and Maharashtra, six in Odisha, 10 in Uttar Pradesh, five in West Bengal, two in Goa, and one each in Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu and Tripura.
Here are the top heavyweights for Phase 3 Lok Sabha Elections who will battle it out today:
In Gujarat capital Gandhinagar, BJP president Amit Shah will contest the seat that veteran leader LK Advani had won by over four lakh votes in the 2014 election. After Mr Shah's nomination was declared, there was heavy backlash from the opposition parties who accused the party of sidelining Mr Advani and senior leaders. Gandhinagar has been in the iron grip of 91-year-old LK Advani since 1998. He had earlier won the seat in 1991 as well. Amit Shah, who has not contested the national elections prior to this, has been in the BJP stronghold for campaigning frequently - the last occasion was on Sunday, when he held a roadshow in Sanand, an area where the BJP plans to improve on its performance.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi is contesting from Kerala's Wayanad, his second seat apart from his home turf Amethi. This is the first time Rahul Gandhi is contesting on a second seat. The party had said its southern units felt that it would boost their prospects if Mr Gandhi contested from the south as well. After his nomination, Rahul Gandhi said, "I will represent Amethi but I will also represent the southern states for they are an important part of India's way of life and India' way forward'. The BJP attacked Mr Gandhi for choosing to contest from the Kerala seat with Amit Shah saying Rahul Gandhi "fled" to Kerala as he fears that the voters of Amethi will seek an account of work done by him and his party.
Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Samajwadi Party patriarch will contest elections from his family bastion Mainpuri in Uttar Pradesh, which has sent him to the Lok Sabha four times. In 2014, Mulayam Singh fought from both Mainpuri and Azamgarh, but chose to retain the latter. Mulayam Singh Yadav's Mainpuri seat is considered among the safest bets for the Samajwadi Party. In the past, he has represented Mainpuri in the Lok Sabha in 1996, 2004 and 2009. Even though he chose the Azamgarh seat in 2014, his victory margin was a massive 3.64 lakh votes.
BJP's Anantkumar Hegde is contesting from his home turf Uttar Kannada, a seat he has had in his hold since 2004. The union minister, who is in news for his controversial remarks, will be up against Janata Dal (Secular)'s Anand Asnotikar. Mr Hegde has been campaigning extensively for the elections and has held roadshows in Siddapura, Sirsi and other places recently. He is also an Union Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship.
Actor-turned-politician Jaya Prada will face former party colleague Azam Khan in Uttar Pradesh's Rampur seat amid many controversial remarks and mud-slinging. Jaya Prada joined the BJP last month, her fifth move in her political career. The actress is in a bitter battle with Azam Khan, her colleague from her Samajwadi Party days. The battle is crucial as she had won in 2004 and 2009 on a Samajwadi Party ticket. However, she lost in 2014 on a Rashtriya Lok Dal ticket.
Azam Khan, one of the founding members of the Samajwadi Party, is contesting from Uttar Pradesh's Rampur and is fighting a major battle with former colleague Jaya Prada, quite literally. The controversial leader's recent comments on Jaya Prada have been condemned across political circles in the country. He was barred by the Election Commission from campaigning for 72 hours over his "khaki underwear" jibe at Jaya Prada. Mr Khan represents Rampur seat in Uttar Pradesh Assembly.
The Gandhi of the BJP, Varun Gandhi, is contesting from Uttar Pradesh's Pilibhit, a seat that he swapped with mother Maneka last month. Mr Gandhi, 38, who is the lawmaker from Sultanpur, had won Pilibhit in 2009 on a BJP ticket. Maneka Gandhi has won the seat six times and sources say the decision for the swap was because the BJP was less sure of Varun Gandhi's chances in Sultanpur this time. Varun Gandhi, younger to his cousins Rahul and Priyanka, fought his first election from Pilibhit in 2009. Over the past few years, he has been vocal in his criticism of the BJP leadership.
Shashi Tharoor, the star Congress candidate from Thiruvananthapuram, is contesting from his stronghold for the third time. He has held the seat since 2009 and he will be contesting against Kummanam Rajasekharan of the BJP and C Divakaran of the CPI. Mr Tharoor has had a flourishing diplomatic and literary career and enjoys a massive following on Twitter. He is known for his hard-hitting speeches on the British raj in India and his use of difficult English words that have coined the term "Tharoorian English".
Supriya Sule, the daughter of Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, is contesting from Maharashtra's Baramati, a seat that has been an NCP stronghold since 2009. Ms Sule had won the seat in two consecutive terms in 2009 and 2014 however the margin of votes saw a sharp fall from 3 lakh to 70,000. This time, Ms Sule is leaving no stone unturned, reaching out to people across the constituency which covers assembly segments of Baramati, Daund, Indapur, Bhor, Khadakwasla and Purandar. To take on Ms Sule, the BJP has given ticket to Kanchan Kul, wife of Rahul Kul, the RSP assembly lawmaker from Daund, who wields a considerable political clout in the area.
Mallikarjun Kharge, is the Congress heavyweight from Karnataka's Gulbarga who has retained the seat since 2009. He is contesting against Umesh G Jadhav from the BJP, who switched sides recently from the Congress. Mr Kharge has won elections for a record 10 consecutive times having won the Assembly elections for an unprecedented 9 consecutive times and the last elections from Gulbarga. One of the most popular Congress faces of the south, Mr Kharge has also been the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
The stakes are high for the ruling BJP and its allies as they bagged 66 seats out of these 116 spread across 14 states and Union Territories in 2014 general election, while the Congress and its alliance partners won 27, and the rest went to other opposition parties and Independents.
The polling in Tripura East constituency, which was earlier scheduled for April 18, will be held in this phase, as also in a part of the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat in Jammu and Kashmir, where election is being held in three phases.
About 18.56 crore voters are eligible for voting in this phase and the Election Commission has set up 2.10 lakh polling stations and has made elaborate security arrangements.
Voting will be held in four more phases on April 29, May 6, 12 and 19 and the results will be declared on May 23.
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