The sixth phase of the national elections may be one of the leanest but several political heavyweights, including Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, former Delhi Chief Minster Sheila Dikshit, BJP's Meenakshi Lekhi, Congress leaders Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijaya Singh, feature in the closely-watched contests in this phase. Fifty nine constituencies across six states and Delhi, a union territory, vote today.
A total of 10 crore 17 lakh voters are eligible to vote in Bihar, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Delhi in the sixth phase. Over 1 lakh 13 thousand polling stations have been set up. The last phase of the seven-phased national elections, which began April 11, will be held on May 19; votes will be counted on May 23.
Here the key battles in the phase-six of national elections:
Atishi Vs Gautam Gambhir Vs Arvinder Singh Lovely
It's a three-cornered battle in East Delhi, one of the seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi polling today, where cricketer-turned-politician and BJP candidate Gautam Gambhir is contesting against Aam Aadmi Party's Atishi and Congress's Arvinder Singh Lovely, a former Delhi minister and a four-time legislator.
While Mr Gambhir's career as a cricketer has earned him huge popularity, Arvinder Singh Lovely, who has served previously as the Delhi Congress chief, has the maximum political experience among the three candidates.
Atishi, who holds a degree from Oxford University, had gained a lot of support last year after Centre sacked her and eight other advisors to the Delhi government. She worked as Delhi Education Minister Manish Sisodia's advisor on a token monthly salary of Re 1 for three years. AAP has often said that improving education facilities in the national capital has been among its key achievements.
Just two days before the sixth phase of polling, Atishi, along with other AAP leaders, accused her rival Gautam Gambhir, of distributing "derogatory pamphlets" about her. Mr Gambhir, who retired from cricket in December after a 15-year stint, responded to the allegations saying he would quit politics if the charges against him are proven. Gautam Gambhir joined the BJP in March.
Pragya Thakur Vs Digvijaya Singh
Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, will see one of the most interesting fights of national elections as BJP candidate Pragya Thakur contests against former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh.
Pragya Thakur, who is out on bail in the Malegaon blast case, has made a string of controversial statements that have incensed the opposition since she joined the BJP last month. She has been served two notices from the Election Commission over her remarks on 26/11 hero Hemant Karkare and Babri demolition. She has had a long association with the RSS, the ideological mentor of the BJP.
As Digvijaya Singh faces BJP's Pragya Thakur, a saffron-robed "Sadhvi", the Congress veteran, eyeing the Bhopal seat, recently turned to a large group of Sadhus. Among the campaigners for him was Namdev Tyagi, popularly known as Computer Baba, who switched from the BJP to Congress. He performed a maha yagya for ex-chief minister's win.
The BJP, which has been winning Bhopal since 1898, won in 2014 by a margin of nearly 3,70,000 votes. Alok Sanjar is the sitting lawmaker from the constituency.
In the 2018 assembly elections, however, Congress improved its poll performance and came back to power in the state after 15 years.
Maneka Gandhi Vs Dr Sanjay Singh
In Uttar Pradesh's Sultanpur, Union Minister Maneka Gandhi is contesting against Congress's Dr Sanjay Singh. Varun Gandhi, Maneka Gandhi's son, won the parliamentary constituency in the 2014 general elections. However, he has swapped seats with his mother this time, and he is contesting from Pilibhit in UP that has elected Maneka Gandhi as a lawmaker six times since 1989.
Maneka Gandhi has waded into controversy more than once this election season. She received two notices from the Election Commission for her "Muslim vote" remark and saying that there is a plan to grade villages according to the number of votes for her and prioritise development work accordingly.
Dr Sanjay Singh, fighting against the Union Minister, was elected to Lok Sabha from Sultanpur in 2009. He has also represented Amethi, a Congress stronghold, in the lower house of parliament in 1998. He also won the assembly elections from Amethi between 1980 and 1989.
Akhilesh Yadav Vs Dinesh Lal Yadav Nirahua
In the sixth phase of elections, 14 Lok Sabha seats in UP are polling and the BJP had won 13 of these seats in 2014. Azamgarh was the only seat that the BJP lost where Samajwadi Party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav won.
This time, his son and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav will fight to retain the seat against Bhojpuri film star Dinesh Lal Yadav, also known as "Nirahua", who is the BJP candidate. The Bhojpuri actor was earlier honoured by the Akhilesh Yadav-led government with the state's Yash Bharti award.
In 2014, the BJP had won 71 of the total 80 seats in the state, which sends maximum lawmakers to parliament. Its ally Apna Dal (Sonelal) had won two seats. While the Congress won two, the Samajwadi Party had won five.
Former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has stitched an alliance this time with Mayawati's BSP and Ajit Singh's RLD to fighting the national elections in Uttar Pradesh.
Jyotiraditya Scindia Vs KP Yadav
Jyotiraditya Scindia is the richest candidate in the sixth phase with assets worth Rs 376 crore according to the election watchdog, Association for Democratic Reforms. He is seeking a fifth term from the Scindia stronghold - Guna in Madhya Pradesh.
Guna, which has about 16 lakh voters, has earlier been represented by his late grandmother Vijaya Raje Scindia and father Madhavrao Scindia.
Mr Scindia, 48, won in 2014 by a margin of over 1.20 lakh votes; and by over 2.49 lakhs in the 2009 general elections. He played a pivotal role as Congress came back to power in 2018 in the state elections after a gap of 15 years. Out of the eight assembly seats under this parliamentary constituency, four each were won by the BJP and the Congress in 2018.
Development is the agenda for the Congress general secretary this time. "I have created a web of good roads for you like a spider... not a single voter should be left out this time and you should ensure that this area creates history not only in MP but the entire country," the sitting Member of Parliament was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
The BJP has fielded a lightweight candidate, KP Yadav, against him. According to Mr Yadav, in Guna, it is not a contest between the BJP and the Congress but "between nationalism and dynasty".
Manoj Tiwari Vs Sheila Dikshit Vs Dilip Pandey
In North East Delhi, it's a triangular contest between state chiefs of three parties - Congress, AAP and the BJP. Three-time Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit is the Congress candidate in the parliamentary constituency where Manoj Tiwari of the BJP won in 2014. He is seeking a second term. Dilip Pandey, who heads the Delhi unit of the AAP, is challenging the two leaders.
BJP 's Manoj Tiwari and AAP's Dilip Pandey will try to take advantage of the Purvanchali factor, whereas Ms Dikshit will fight on the basis of her tenure as a chief minister for three terms. If elected, Ms Dikshit will be the first woman lawmaker from the constituency.
Bad roads, overflowing drains and garbage disposal are some of the key poll issues in the constituency formed in 2008.
In 2014, Mr Tiwari won as he secured 45.38 per cent of the total of 13,13,514 votes. AAP's Anand Kumar followed him with 452,041 votes and Congress' Jai Prakash Agarwal, at the third spot, secured 16 per cent of the total votes.
Meenakshi Lekhi Vs Ajay Maken Vs Brijesh Goyal
Meenakshi Lekhi is one of the four sitting lawmakers fielded by the BJP in Delhi. She is seeking reelection from New Delhi, a high-profile constituency, against ex-Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken and Aam Admi Party's Brijesh Goyal.
Meenakshi Lekhi, a Supreme Court lawyer, is also party's national spokesperson. She has been accused by AAP's Brijesh Goyal of "inaccessibility to voters". "Her inaccessibility and unavailability to voters in New Delhi constituency has given rise to the slogan 'Meenakshi Lekhi Kabhi Nahi Dekhi' (Never saw Meenakshi Lekhi)," Mr Goyal was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
Congress, which did not win even a single seat in Delhi in 2014, is "the only party that can provide stable government," former Union Minister Ajay Maken has claimed. "Congress wave is sweeping the national capital. People of Delhi are now looking up to the party with hope and expectation that only Congress can provide an able and stable government," he told news agency IANS.
Raghav Chadha Vs Ramesh Biduri Vs Vijender Singh
South Delhi, one of the seven Lok Sabha constituencies in Delhi, also witnesses a triangular fight between Congress's Virender Singh, a former Olympian, AAP's Raghav Chadha and three-time lawmaker Ramesh Bidhuri of the BJP.
In 2014, Mr Bidhuri won the seat with 4,97,980 votes. The parliamentary constituency, which has about 20.67 lakh voters, has a considerable number of Jat and Gurjar voters.
Virender Singh, better known as Vijender Singh, is India's only Olympic bronze-medal winning boxer. He has maintained that he will not quit boxing even if he wins. "I am contesting the election in the seat as people were in need. Boxing will continue, a lot of time is still left," he had earlier said.
AAP's Raghav Chadha, 31, is contesting for the first time from South Delhi; he has been endorsed by actors like Gul Panag and Prakash Raj.
Dilip Ghosh Vs Manas Bhunia
It's a battle of two heavyweights in Bengal's Midnapore, traditionally a stronghold of the Left, between BJP's state chief Dilip Ghosh and six-time legislator Manas Bhunia, who switched from the Congress to Trinamool Congress in 2016.
In 2014, Trinamool ended the 34-year-old domination of the Left as its candidate Sandhya Roy, a popular Bengali actress, defeated three time-CPI MP Probodh Panda by over 1.8 lakh votes. But this time, the ruling Trinamool has dropped the sitting lawmaker.
Both Mr Ghosh and Mr Bhunia say they would win. "People of Midnapore love me and know me well, as I have been at the forefront of their battle against the mafia-raj in the region since the last two-three years. People are with us. We will also get a large chunk of the Left's votes as they now only exist in posters," Mr Ghosh told IANS.
On the other hand, Mr Bhunia, Trinamool Congress's Rajya Sabha MP, has said he has seen an "unprecedented support" for West Bengal Chief Minster Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool across the constituency. "People will bless us for the development carried out under this government. Neither the BJP, nor anybody else would be able to stop us," he told IANS.
Pashupati Nath Singh Vs Kirti Azad
In Dhanbad, one of the four Lok Sabha seats in Jharkhand voting in the sixth phase, cricketer-turned-politician Kirti Azad is the Congress candidate who is fighting against BJP lawmaker Pasupati Nath Singh.
A three-time lawmaker, Kirti Azad joined the Congress in February. He was suspended from the BJP in 2015 over "anti-party" remarks. Mr Azad, who was an all-rounder, won the Darbhanga seat in Bihar in 2014 on a BJP ticket. He has been nominated by the Congress under a seat-sharing deal of the grand alliance in the state.
In 2014, Mr Singh, a two-time MP from Dhanbad, had defeated Congress candidate Ajay Kumar Dubey.
The constituency has a total of 20,58,233 voters including 11,21,588 male voters and 9,46,641 female voters. Giridih, Jamshedpur and Singhbhum are the other seats in Jharkhand voting today. The BJP won all of the four seats in 2014.
(With inputs from IANS, PTI)