New Delhi (IANS) Voting began on Monday across 51 Lok Sabha constituencies spread over seven states, largely in the Hindi heartland, in the fifth of the mega seven-phase electoral exercise.
A total electorate of over 8.75 crore is eligible to exercise their franchise in this phase which covers the remaining 12 constituencies in Rajasthan, as well as 14 in Uttar Pradesh, including the high-profile Amethi, Rae Bareli and Lucknow seats, five in Bihar, and seven in West Bengal.
Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh go in for their second phase of polls with voting in four and seven constituencies, respectively.
Voting is also being held in the final phase of the three stage polling in Jammu and Kashmir's Anantnag, as well as the state's Ladakh constituency. It will be a challenge for security forces to ensure smooth polling in Anantnag, as violence was reported on Sunday in Shopian and Pulwama which will vote on Monday.
Among the 674 candidates in this phase, prominent ones include Congress President Rahul Gandhi from his traditional Amethi constituency where he faces Union Minister Smriti Irani, his mother and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi from neighbouring Rae Bareli, and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh who faces actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha's wife Poonam Sinha (Samajwadi Party) in Lucknow.
Also contesting are Union Ministers Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore - who faces fellow Olympian Krishna Poonia in Jaipur Rural - and Jayant Sinha (Hazaribagh), former Union Minister Dinesh Trivedi (Trinamool Congress) in Barrackpore, and actress-turned-BJP leader Locket Chatterjee in Hooghly.
In this phase, the BJP will be defending 39 seats -- all 12 in Rajasthan and a similar number in Uttar Pradesh, all seven in Madhya Pradesh, three in Bihar, all four in Jharkhand and one in Jammu and Kashmir.
In West Bengal, all seven seats were won by the Trinamool Congress, in Bihar, one was won by BJP ally Lok Janshakti Party and one by then ally Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, and in Jammu and Kashmir, one seat was won by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The Congress had only bagged two -- Amethi and Rae Bareli.
With the fifth phase, voting will be completed in all seats of Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir.
The seven-phase Lok Sabha elections started on April 11 and would conclude on May 19. Counting of votes will take place on May 23.