2024 LS polls kicks off on Friday, voting for 102 seats in 1st of the 7 phases

NEW DELHI, Apr 18 : The 2024 Lok Sabha polls kicks off on Friday with voting for 102 seats spread across 21 states and Union territories in the first of the seven phases of the world’s largest electoral exercise as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a rare third term in office.
Over 16.63 crore people are eligible to vote on Friday.
India has nearly 97 crore registered voters for elections to the 543-member Lok Sabha, with BJP’s ambition to emerge as a force challenging the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu and determination to retain its strongholds across the country set to be put to a stern test and the opposition INDIA bloc facing a herculean task to dislodge the BJP-led NDA.
In the first phase, there are 35.67 lakh first time voters, besides 3.51 crore young voters in the age group of 20-29 years.
Counting of votes in the elections that will conclude on June one will be taken up on June 4.
Polling will be held for all seats of Tamil Nadu (39), Uttarakhand (5), Arunachal Pradesh (2), Meghalaya (2), Andaman and Nicobar Islands (1), Mizoram (1), Nagaland (1), Puducherry (1), Sikkim (1) and Lakshadweep (1).
Besides, there will be voting in 12 seats in Rajasthan, eight in Uttar Pradesh, six in Madhya Pradesh, five seats each in Assam and Maharashtra, four in Bihar, three in West Bengal, two in Manipur, and one seat each in Tripura, Jammu and Kashmir and Chhattisgarh.
Simultaneously, assembly elections will be held in Arunachal Pradesh (60 seats) and Sikkim (32 seats).
Among the prominent candidates in the fray in the first phase are Union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Sarbananda Sonowal, Gaurav Gogoi of Congress and DMK’s Kanimozhi. An aggressive K Annamalai, who is steering the BJP campaign in Tamil Nadu, is also among the contestants.
Polling will begin at 7 AM and end at 6 PM. The voters comprise 8.4 crore men, 8.23 crore women and 11,371 from third gender.
The Election Commission has deployed over 18 lakh polling personnel across 1.87 lakh polling stations.
While the National Democratic alliance(NDA) under Prime Minister Modi is seeking a stronger majority, the constituents of the opposition INDIA bloc are hoping for a rebound after facing reverses in the 2014 and 2019 elections.
Besides Gadkari, Sonowal, seven other Union ministers–Bhupendra Yadav, Kiren Rijiju, Sanjeev Baliyan, Jitendra Singh, Arjun Ram Meghwal, L Murugan and Nisith Pramanik–are in the poll fray in the first phase.
Two former chief ministers–Biplab Kumar Deb (Tripura) and Nabam Tuki (Arunachal Pradesh)–and Tamilisai Soundararajan, who recently resigned as governor of Telangana to return to active politics, also figure in Friday’s poll battle. Soundararajan is contesting from Chennai South on BJP ticket.
In 2019, the UPA had won 45 of the 102 seats at stake on Friday and the NDA 41. Six of these seats have been redrawn as part of the delimitation exercise.
Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar on Thursday urged people to cast their ballot and reminded people of the significance of each vote, saying there have been instances when one vote has mattered in a critical contest.
Elections are the most beautiful expression of India’s democracy and there is “nothing like voting”, he said in a video message.
In view of the heatwave conditions, Kumar said people must take all precautions. “But I know the spirit of the Indian voter will beat the summer heat,” he added.
“In our great democracy, elections belong to you, the choice belongs to you… You are deciding the government. You are doing it for your sake, for your family and children, for your village or town and, of course, for the country,” he said.
“I call upon the youth to lead a revolution in electoral participation.”
In Tamil Nadu, which accounts for the largest number of seats in the first phase, the BJP had drawn a blank in 2019. This time though, the BJP conducted a spirited campaign, led by Prime Minister Modi, in a bid to gain a foothold in the Dravidian land.
The election mood set in pretty early in the state in January, with Modi making repeated visits and declaring development and honour for Tamil language and culture as his main election plank. The BJP has also denounced the DMK-Congress alliance over alleged corruption and dynasty politics.
Coimbatore, the hub of western Tamil Nadu, is the most keenly watched constituency in the state and Annamalai, the BJP’s state chief, is battling against Dravidian giants the DMK and AIADMK. He also faces challenge from the Tamil nationalist, Naam Tamilar Katchi in the four-cornered contest with anti-DMK-Congress votes split into three.
The Katchatheevu issue has also led to a slanging match between the BJP and the DMK-Congress combine.
Tight security arrangements have been put in place for the first of the two-phased Lok Sabha elections in Manipur, which had been rocked by ethnic violence over the last one year.
The Inner Manipur Lok Sabha seat, which comprises 32 of the 60 assembly segments in the state, and 15 assembly segments of the Outer Manipur Lok Sabha seat will go to polls in the first phase. Voting will be held in the remaining 13 segments of Outer Manipur in the second phase on April 26.
In Rajasthan, Nagaur is set to witness a close contest between the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) candidate and former MP Hanuman Beniwal in alliance with Congress against BJP nominee and former Congress MP Jyoti Mirdha.
Beniwal with the BJP’s support in the 2019 elections defeated Mirdha, who was then a Congress candidate. However, Beniwal separated from the NDA in 2020 over the farmers’ agitation issue.
The prestigious Dibrugarh constituency in Assam has three candidates in fray with Union minister Sonowal, a Rajya Sabha MP, pitted against the United Opposition Forum, Assam (UOFA) candidate Lurinjyoti Gogoi of the AJP and Aam Aadmi Party’s Manoj Dhanowar.
In Jorhat, four candidates are in contention, with Lok Sabha’s Deputy Leader of the Opposition Gaurav Gogoi locked in a direct contest with sitting BJP MP Topon Gogoi.
Voters of eight Lok Sabha constituencies in western Uttar Pradesh, falling in the Jat and sugarcane belt, are also eligible to exercise their franchise. The seats going to polls are Saharanpur, Bijnor, Kairana, Muzaffarnagar, Nagina (reserved for Scheduled Castes), Moradabad, Rampur and Pilibhit. (PTI)