Rahul Gandhi, Jailed Leader, 2 Ex Chief Ministers: Key Poll Battles Today

Union Minister Piyush Goyal is also making his Lok Sabha election debut.

Rahul Gandhi, Jailed Leader, 2 Ex Chief Ministers: Key Poll Battles Today

Omar Abdullah is contesting from Baramulla.

Going just by the number of constituencies, Phase 5 of the Lok Sabha elections may seem like the least important one because only 49 seats will be voting. One look at some of the constituencies and names included in the list, however, reveals how important the phase actually is. 

Here are some of the key battles that will take place today:

Rahul Gandhi vs Dinesh Pratap Singh 

Having suffered a shock defeat at the hands of the BJP's Smriti Irani in 2019, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is contesting again from Uttar Pradesh for his second seat, in addition to Kerala's Wayanad. Instead of Amethi, which he has represented as an MP thrice, Mr Gandhi has opted to fight from the family's last remaining bastion in the state, Raebareli, which was won by his mother, Sonia Gandhi, five times. 

Facing off against him is the BJP's Dinesh Pratap Singh, a former Congress leader who switched in 2018 and lost to Sonia Gandhi in the general elections the year after that by a margin of about 1.7 lakh votes. Mr Singh's family is seen to have a good hold on Raebareli and he has said that the departure of the "fake Gandhis" from the constituency is certain. 

Smriti Irani vs KL Sharma

In 2019, the BJP's Smriti Irani managed to convince voters in Amethi, a Gandhi family bastion, that she was a better alternative than their three-time MP Rahul Gandhi. With no one from the Gandhi family contesting from the constituency this time, Ms Irani, who is also a Union minister, has said an "ordinary BJP worker" has sent "the first family of Indian politics" packing. 

Her opponent from the seat is Congress' KL Sharma, a Gandhi family loyalist who has worked in the constituency for nearly 40 years. Winning in Amethi would be crucial for the Congress, which had managed to achieve victory only in one seat in Uttar Pradesh in 2019, down from the two it had won in 2014.

Rajnath Singh vs Ravidas Mehrotra

Lucknow is a prestige constituency for the BJP because former Prime Minister and one of its biggest leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had won it five times. It is also a party bastion and the BJP has held it since 1991. Defence Minister and former BJP president Rajnath Singh contested from Lucknow for the first time in 2014 and won again in 2019, with his vote margin rising by 70,000 between the two elections.

The main contest this time is between Mr Singh, who is also a former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Ravidas Mehrotra of the Samajwadi Party, which is fighting the elections in an alliance with the Congress. Mr Mehrotra is the MLA from Lucknow Central and is confident despite facing an uphill battle. "The biggest giants have fallen before the people and this is an election. You never know what can happen," he has said.

Omar Abdullah vs Sajad Lone vs Engineer Rashid

Jammu and Kashmir's five seats are voting in five phases and today is the turn of Baramulla. An enthusiastic campaign is being run by all sides and the contest between the National Conference's Omar Abdullah, People's Conference Chairperson Sajad Lone and jailed leader Abdul Rashid Sheikh aka Engineer Rashid, who is contesting as an Independent, is a keenly watched one. 

Mr Abdullah, a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, who has also won from the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency thrice, has been one of the staunchest opponents of the abrogation of Article 370, which granted special status to the erstwhile state. His campaign is centred around the Centre's 2019 move and the threat it poses to the existence and identity of the people in the Union Territory.

The National Conference leader has accused Mr Lone of being the proxy candidate for the BJP, which is not contesting any of the three seats in the Kashmir region. The People's Conference chief is being supported by Altaf Bukhari's Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party and has also got tacit support from the BJP, which has asked people in Kashmir to vote for anyone but the National Conference and its former ally, the Peoples Democratic Party, which is headed by Mehbooba Mufti. 

Queering the pitch for both senior leaders is Engineer Rashid, whose campaign, run by his son, 26-year-old son Abrar Rashid, is seeing a surprising amount of traction. Engineer Rashid is in jail in a terror funding case and Ghulam Nabi Azad's Democratic Progressive Azad Party has also announced support for him. 

Piyush Goyal vs Bhushan Patil

Maharashtra is seeing a unique election this time with two of its biggest regional parties, the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), being split and their factions facing off against each other. The BJP is allied with the Eknath Shinde group of the Shiv Sena and the Ajit Pawar faction of the NCP while the Congress is part of an alliance with the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) and the NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar).

As part of its decision to make as many ministers as possible contest the Lok Sabha polls, Piyush Goyal, the Union Minister of Commerce and Industries, has been fielded from the Mumbai North Constituency. The leader of the Rajya Sabha is contesting his first Lok Sabha election and has been labelled an "outsider", a tag he has strongly contested. What is working in his favour, however, is that the constituency is seen as one of the BJP's strongest in Maharashtra and had been won by a margin of 4.6 lakh votes in 2019.  

Mr Patil, who is the vice president of the Mumbai Congress, has said there is no such thing as a strong seat and that he will emerge as a giant killer. The Congress leader said he has risen up the ranks in the party from the grassroots, is a "son of the soil" and has worked in the region for decades.