The BJP on Thursday, March 21, released its first list of candidates, followed by a series of similar announcements from the All India Congress Committee and other Opposition parties.
With the filing of nominations nearing an end, voters have a rough idea of which contests to look out for and which candidates will drive a high-stake battle.
How will JNU student leader, Kanhaiya Kumar’s first electoral battle at a national level, play out against BJP and gathbandhan candidates? Will Smriti Irani’s sophomore attempt extinguish the dynasty politics at play in Amethi? How will Uttar Pradesh vote—will they go for the incumbent prime minister or the 111 farmers from Tamil Nadu, who have challenged him from his constituency?
With formidable, young opponents like Jignesh Mevani and Hardik Patel, the national ruling party is making doubly sure that their bastion state, Gujarat, remains in their control, but with a generational shift.
BJP chief Amit Shah has replaced LK Advani, six-time Parliamentarian from Gandhinagar. Senior BJP stalwart, Murli Manohar Joshi, has also been dropped from the list of 40 star campaigners, according to ANI.
All eyes on Varanasi
Soon after prime minister Narendra Modi announced he will contest from Varanasi, Tamil Nadu farmers’ leader, P Ayyakannu, said on Saturday that, 111 farmers from the state will file their nominations from the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency.
After taking their protests to the national capital to highlight their demands, Tamil Nadu’s farmers are gearing up for an electoral battle in Uttar Pradesh, making it a race to watch out for, in a state boiling with agrarian discontent.
Manipur’s ST-only ticket
Outer Manipur Lok Sabha seat is another special one; it is one of the two parliamentary constituencies in Manipur, and is notably reserved for the members of the Scheduled Tribes.
BJP’s state unit vice-president, H Shokhopao alias Benjamin Mate will be its candidate for the seat. Meanwhile, Congress has fielded a new face, K James, a government employee-turned-entrepreneur to replace the sitting member of the parliamentary constituency since 2004, Thangso Baite, after he did not apply for a ticket this time.
Baite had defeated the Naga People’s Front leader Soso Lorho in the last Lok Sabha election held in 2014.
BJP could field former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan from Bhopal, to take on senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, News18 has reported. This could be another riveting battle in a state which was under saffron rule for the past 15 years until Congress established the state government there, in 2018.
Late last night, the BJP released names of four more Lok Sabha candidates including its nominee for Odisha’s Bijepur assembly constituency, the second seat from where BJD chief and incumbent chief minister Naveen Patnaik, is contesting the state polls. The saffron party has fielded Sanat Gadtia to take on Patnaik, the latter of whom made headlines for allocating 33% of BJD’s seats to women candidates.
Infighting in Karnataka
In Karnataka, JD(S) leader HD Deve Gowda has filed for candidacy in Tumkur, Karnataka, after sitting Congress MP Muddahanumegowda turned rogue, saying he would fight as an Independent. However, he later filed his nominations as a Congress candidate, throwing the seat-share math into disarray. On Monday, he asked his party leaders and the JD(S) to reconsider and give him the sole running ticket, leading to further infighting over the seat.
Gowda, however, has clarified he had no intention of contesting the polls from Tumkur nor hurting the sitting MP; he made the decision only after several Congress, JD(S) and other regional leaders suggested he should run, he told ANI.
Rahul’s dual battle in Amethi and Wayanad
In Rajasthan, recently jousted out of BJP’s control in the Assembly polls, the battle between Union Minister Smriti Irani and Congress president Rahul Gandhi could be a close call.
Irani will once again take on Congress chief Rahul Gandhi from Amethi, for the second time, after being defeated by a margin of 1.07 lakh votes in 2014. Unperturbed by this, Irani tweeted Monday saying “Amethi has rejected him,” possibly referring to reports that Gandhi may be considering a second and sure seat in south India, possibly Wayanad in Kerala.
Regardless of whether Gandhi is after optics or insurance in Wayanad, this has naturally alarmed Kerala’s ruling leftist government. Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan said on Monday, “The Congress move is not in tune with the national political interest. When secular parties are making strong efforts to defeat the BJP, what message is he trying to send by contesting from Kerala?”
Kanhaiya is a challenge no one wants to take on
In Bihar’s Begusarai, which is being referred to as the ‘Leningrad of Bihar’, active pockets of communism were crushed when it went to BJP for the first time in 2014. The seat has been lying vacant since the death of MP Bhola Singh.
After the CPI announced former JNU students’ union president, Kanhaiya Kumar, as its candidate from the constituency, there has been a mad scramble to put up a formidable challenger against Kumar, who first came into limelight when he was booked for sedition for allegedly raising anti-national slogans inside the varsity premises.
The gathbandhan comprising of RJD, Congress, and other small parties failed to come up with a joint candidate, who they might field against the debutant, who strongly resonates with the youth, while also being in touch with the grassroots issues in the region. Instead, RJD’s Tanweer Hasan and BJP’s Giriraj Singh will have to go it alone against Kumar. Notably, both Singh and Kumar belonging to the Bhumihar caste which dominates Begusarai.
Commenting on the shrinking of space for Muslims in Parliament, Hasan said that those fighting on the plank of secularism should not dent the prospect of Muslim representatives like himself in the legislatures.
Celebrities have always been a lucky draw for political parties in the time of polls. While sitting MP Hema Malini filed her nominations to contest in Mathura, Urmila Matondkar has reportedly launched her political career, as a Congress candidate from Mumbai.
BJP also managed to rope in noted paralympian Deepa Malik, the first Indian woman to win a medal at the paralympic games, to contest from Haryana. Earlier this week, cricketer Gautam Gambhir, and award-winning athlete Surendra Poonia, joined the saffron party as well.
Bengal’s ruling Trinamool party has fielded 44% female candidates in West Bengal, including actors Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan. The rising face of the party and its general secretary, Mahua Moitra, will be contesting from her constituency in Krishnanagar.
Asansol will offer poll watchers another heady contest between BJP candidate and singer Babul Supriyo, and erstwhile actress and Trinamool MP Moonmoon Sen, who enjoys the reputation of a political giant, after she defeated nine-time CPI(M) MP Basudeb Acharia in Bankura in 2014. In 2014, Supriyo had defeated Trinamool leader Dola Sen in an upset.
While these won’t be the only seats to watch for (and certainly not the only battles which will determine the outcome of the general elections, 2019), the high-profile nature of these candidates and the high stakes therein, will drive the TRPs and lend high octane drama to the polls.
More importantly, several of these competing candidatures, will shed light on the Congress and BJP’s strategies, generate a buzz around farmer’s issues, women’s and minorities’ representation in legislatures, and encourage Indian youth to take up student politics.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.