As many as 9.46 crore voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the fourth phase of Lok Sabha polls on Thursday in which the fate of Bharatiya Janata Party president Rajnath Singh, Congress' Pranab Mukherjee, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Prasad would be decided.
Rajnath Singh is contesting from Ghaziabad Lok Sabha seat, while Mukherjee is fighting from Jangipur and Mulayamfrom Mainpuri. Lalu Prasad, who has already entered the polls from the Saran Lok Sabha seat, is also contesting from Pataliputra to further secure his place in Parliament.Former BJP strongman Kalyan Singh is fighting as an independent with the support of Samajwadi Party from Etah.
A total of 1,315 candidates, including 119 women, are in the fray in this penultimate phase of elections that will witness polling to 85 Lok Sabha seats in eight states and union territories.
Votes will be cast across 1.29 lakh polling booths, which would be manned by over six lakh election officials. Polling would be held between 0700 hrs and 1700 hrs.
At the end of the fourth phase, elections would be completed to 457 of the 545-member Lok Sabha. Polls are held only to 543 seats, as two members are nominated from the Anglo-Indian community.
Some of the prominent candidates in this phase of polls include the National Conference's Farooq Abdullah, Congress' Kapil Sibal from Chandni Chowk, Sachin Pilot from Ajmer, Shekhar Suman from Patna Saheb, Ajay Maken from New Delhi, BJP's Shatrughan Sinha from Patna Saheb, Haryana Janhit Congress's Bhajan Lal from Hisar and Rashtriya Lok Dal's Ajit Singh from Baghpat.
Polling to all the 25 seats in Rajasthan, 10 in Haryana and seven in Delhi will be completed at one go.
Elections will also be held to three seats in Bihar, one in Jammu and Kashmir, four in Punjab, 18 in Uttar Pradesh and 17 in West Bengal.
The build-up to this phase of polls was marked by hectic electioneering, with star campaigners of the UPA, the NDA and the Third Front traversing through the country to tell voters why the other alliance should not be elected, while actively sending out feelers to one another for post-poll tie-ups.
Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi said on Tuesday,"After elections, all options are open.... We have always been open to post-poll alliances".
He appeared to reach out to Nitish Kumar, whose JD-U is an NDA constituent, and Chandrababu Naidu, whose TDP is part of the Third Front. He also expressed the hope that Left parties would back Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister.
"I respect Naidu. He has done a good job... I am not saying (only we have leaders) There are leaders who are in the opposition. Nitish for example... I think the intention (to work) is there," Gandhi said. However, both Nitish and the left shrugged off any post-poll alliance with the Congress. While Nitish said he is happy wherever he is now, the Left described Sonia Gandhi-led Congress as a "jittery" party and dismissed chances of teaming up with it.
Rahul was, however, unforgiving in his criticism of BJP's PM hopeful L K Advani, saying he should have resigned as the Home Minister once he realised that a cabinet colleague of his had escorted terrorists in return for the release of hostages in Kandahar.
The BJP, too, continued its criticism of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, calling him "weak". "If the Prime Minister only wants to clear files while the political decisions are taken by Sonia Gandhi, then I am afraid what we need is a cabinet secretary and not a Prime Minister," BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley said.
In the midst of the campaign heat, the Prime Minister too launched an attack on the Left, which withdrew support to the United Progressive Alliance over the civil nuclear deal with the US, saying that its policies are "retrograde" and "lack far-sightedness".
The issue of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi's name being dropped from the Central Bureau of Investigation's most wanted list in connection with the Bofors scam spilled over into this round of campaigning as well, but Rahul Gandhi said he was far from embarrassed by the development and chose to call it a "dead" issue.