New Delhi: The jury is still out on who goes stronger into the second phase of the Lok Sabha polls where voting will be held on Thursday. Did Jats, Dalits and Muslims really unite to counter the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, were Jitan Ram Manjhi and Chirag Paswan able to save their seats in Bihar, and are there any surprises in seats such as Ghaziabad and Nagpur from where Union ministers VK Singh and Nitin Gadkari are contesting?
What we do know, on the other hand, is that another 97 seats will go to polls. We will move further east in Uttar Pradesh and see polls in Amroha, Bulandshahr, Mathura, Fatehpur Sikri and four other reserved seats of Nagina, Aligarh, Hathras and Agra. There will be some interesting things here — which way do the Jats turn in constituencies where they hold sway — Mathura, Aligarh and Fatehpuri Sikri from where Raj Babbar is fighting a keenly-watched contest.
Another interesting factor to watch out for will be the mood of the Lodhs. Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Agra and Farrukhabad have a huge concentration of Lodhs, who are just two per cent of UP’s population but make for 10%-35% of the electorate in these seats. Aligarh happens to be the home constituency of former UP chief minister and BJP heavyweight Kalyan Singh, the present governor of Rajasthan.
Also, in seats like Amroha, Nagina, Aligarh and Agra where Dalits and Muslims make for nearly half the electorate, the ‘Mahagathbandhan’s’ political experiment will be put to severe test.
In realpolitik terms, it will be a fight between the BJP and the BSP. Mayawati’s candidates are fighting on six of the eight seats, SP's candidate is fighting in a single seat in Hathras, and RLD on one seat, Mathura.
We will also move eastwards in the case of Bihar, towards areas such as Kishanganj, Katihar, Purnia, Banka and Bhagalpur which have substantial Muslim populations. The competition will get tougher for the NDA here as except Katihar, which was won by JD(U), all the other seats were bagged by RJD, Congress and NCP in 2014 despite the Modi wave.
As a counter-argument, one could say that in the recent assembly elections held here in 2015, the JD(U) had emerged the strongest, with 13 of the 30 MLAs. This explains why the BJP has left all these Lok Sabha seats to the party. The Congress, whose president has already held a rally in Purnia, will see senior leaders such as Tariq Anwar fight from Katihar.
But the bulk of the Lok Sabha’s second phase seats are in the south, with 14 seats in Karnataka and 39 seats in Tamil Nadu gearing up for polls.
To take the case of Karnataka first, the battles in Mandya and Mysuru will be among the most keenly watched.
In Mandya, on one side is Congress-JD(S) combine’s candidate Nikhil Kumaraswamy, the son of present chief minister HD Kumaraswamy. He will face Sumalatha Ambareesh, the wife of late superstar Ambareesh. She is said to have the support of several disgruntled Congress leaders who are angry with their party for not having given her a ticket. Sumalatha's late husband had fought and won from this constituency thrice.
Personal rivalry and unsettled scores between senior Congress and JD(S) leaders have also turned this contest into a fight of the "gathbandhan" within itself. This is why the BJP has not fielded a candidate here and is understood to be supporting Sumalatha instead.
Mysuru is another interesting seat where friction between the Congress and JD(S) is evident. Senior Congress leader and former CM Siddaramaiah is said to have fought to have his own man bag the ticket in what is essentially his home district. Both Mysuru and Mandya have a strong presence of Vokkaliggas who are considered voters of the JD(S), which is why the regional heavyweight tried to bag both seats.
Giving the combine a run for its money in Mysuru is the BJP's Pratap Simha. Along with BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa, Ananth Kumar Hegde and Shobha Karandlaje, Simha is considered an outspoken member of his party. Like Simha, another young opponent to the JD(S)-Congress combine is Tejasvi Surya, who was announced as a last-minute surprise candidate from Bangalore South, a BJP stronghold.
Tejaswini Ananth Kumar, the wife of late BJP leader Ananth Kumar, was expected to bag the ticket. However, the party later managed to mollify her by elevating her to the position of vice-president of the party’s state unit. She's now going door-to-door seeking votes for Surya.
The focus of elections in Tamil Nadu, 39 Lok Sabha seats of which will going to polls on Thursday, will actually be centered on the simultaneously conducted bypolls in 18 assembly constituencies instead. The ruling government is on the line here as it needs to win a minimum of eight assembly bypoll seats to stay in power.
On the other hand, even if the DMK wins all the 18 seats, its effective strength, along with its allies, can touch only 115. This may not be enough to unseat the government, but a really strong performance by DMK in the bypolls will really shake up the confidence of the AIADMK government.
Finally, in Maharashtra, the elections will move into the drought-affected Marathwada region. Eight of the 10 seats going to polls — Latur, Osmanabad, Hingoli, Parbhani, Jalna, Aurangabad, Beed and Nanded — fall in the region. This could be one of the best chances for the Congress-NCP to overwhelm the Shiv Sena-BJP combine and set momentum for further phases.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, only Hingoli and Nanded were able to withstand the Modi wave. Rajeev Satav from Hingoli, who won by a slim margin of 1,600 votes, and Ashok Chavan from Nanded won their party's only two seats in the last general elections in Maharashtra. The Congress here will bank on the constant attacks against the BJP government by the Shiv Sena, which won three of the eight seats here, and tied up with BJP just before the polls.
Beed is home to regional heavyweight Gopinath Munde’s family. BJP's Maharashtra unit chief Raosaheb Danve is fighting from Jana, while Latur is a Congress bastion and home to former Union home minister Shivraj Patil. On the other hand, Rajeev Satav’s disinterest in fighting again from Hingoli has perturbed some in Congress' state unit.