Lok Sabha polls: Big guns Sonia, Advani, Modi, Jaitley in fray today

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NEW DELHI: Big reputations are at stake in Wednesday’s polling with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, BJP’s top leaders Narendra Modi, L K Advani, Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley apart from former Punjab CM Amarinder Singh and TRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao seeking a popular mandate.

Some riveting contests like the Jaitley versus Amarinder duel in Amritsar or the Badal versus Badal showdown in Bathinda are set to be decided as 89 seats in seven states and two Union Territories go to polls.

BJP veteran M M Joshi, who moved to Kanpur to make way for Modi in Varanasi, takes on coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal in a contest where the local pitch could get swamped by a pro-Modi sentiment.

Jhansi is the stage for sanyasin Uma Bharati’s comeback bid as she looks to unseat Congress’s Pradeep Jain, banking on the “Modi Kashi se, Uma Bharati Jhansi se” slogan.

The 14 seats in UP’s central and Bundelkhand areas that go to polls delivered good returns for Congress in 2009 but its incumbents, including two ministers — Jaiswal and Jitin Prasada — are finding the going tough. Sonia is not expected to face much of a challenge in Rae Bareli — the other Gandhi borough of Amethi goes to polls on May 7 — even if her party does not find it easy to repeat the 2009 result where the party did well in 14 seats going to polls.

Bahujan Samaj Party comes across as a strong presence in the region where the Samajwadi Party seems to be taking a back seat after having been the main challenger to BJP in the previous three rounds in UP.

Though Modi’s win from Vadodara against Congress’s Madhusudhan Mistry is not in doubt, the BJP leader will look to maximize returns in the 26 seats at stake in Gujarat with Congress still a force in tribal areas. In fact, BJP has not found it easy to replicate its dominance in assembly polls in Lok Sabha elections and will hope that Modi’s projection gives it a decisive edge this time around.

After having precipitated a minor crisis over his demand to shift from Gandhinagar to Bhopal, Advani should be coasting with the onus squarely on Modi to ensure that the veteran wins convincingly.

Bollywood actor Paresh Rawal, who replaced Modi baiter Harin Pathak in Ahmedabad (East), looks a shoo-in too while some Congress leaders like Shankarsihn Vaghela will fancy his chances in Sabarkantha.

BJP chief Rajnath Singh, contesting from Lucknow, has left nothing to chance, going out his way to woo Muslim voters to cement his position despite the community being far from enthused by Modi’s candidature.

Down south, TRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao is contesting both the Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies in Medak in Telangana as he hopes to emerge as the dominant political force in what will be India’s 29th state. KCR is locked in a bitter battle with Congress after he evaded a merger with the party, a manoeuver intended to ensure that TRS’s post-poll options are not restricted.

Bathinda is the stage for a grudge match between the rebel Badal, Manpreet Singh, and Harsimrat Kaur, wife of Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal. Manpreet, a former Akali finance minister, was routed in the assembly elections and is looking to settle scores with estranged cousin Sukhbir by scripting an upset in a hard fought and vituperative contest.

Amritsar is set to witness a needle fight as Jaitley hopes to overcome incumbency against the Akali-BJP government by focusing on national issues while Amarinder harps on local resentments to score against his rival.

Amarinder’s wife Preneet is in the fray from the family bastion of Patiala while other notable contests in Punjab include former actor Vinod Khanna contesting on a BJP ticket from Gurdaspur against Congress state chief Partap Singh Bajwa.

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