With the days ticking by till the all-important vote counting scheduled for May 23, the nation is on the threshold of welcoming a new government. While the headline statistic that everyone is attempting to predict revolves around the numbers the NDA and UPA are likely to get in total, the road to determining that outcome also contains some fascinating and compelling individual battles. Some of these involve powerful contenders from the two big national parties, while others are interesting for a number of other reasons.
Here's a list of the 30 biggest contests to look forward to on counting day:
- Amethi (Uttar Pradesh): Known to be a traditional Congress bastion, BJP has fielded Union Minister Smriti Irani against Congress president Rahul Gandhi. The voting day in Amethi in the fifth phase was marked by charges of 'booth-rigging' by Irani and Congress president Rahul Gandhi being absent from the constituency. In 2014, Irani lost to Rahul Gandhi from the same seat with a vote-margin of 1.07 lakh votes or a vote-ratio of about 3:4. This time, her challenge has forced Rahul Gandhi to also seek election from Wayanad.
- Begusarai (Bihar): The Begusarai constituency, which is among the most talked about seats in Bihar, recorded a comparatively high turnout of 61.27%, as per the EC. The constituency has been under a microscope as it is witnessing the electoral debut of CPI candidate Kanhaiya Kumar, the controversial former JNUSU president who is pitted against BJP leader and union minister Giriraj Singh. The Mahagathbandhan's nominee is Tanweer Hasan (RJD).
- Rampur (Uttar Pradesh): The constituency known for sending to Lok Sabha India's first education minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, is now at the centre of a bitter battle between Samajwadi Party strongman Azam Khan and BJP's Jaya Prada. With Congress fielding Sanjay Kapoor, the fight in Rampur has become triangular. The seat is currently held by the BJP’s Nepal Singh who won the seat for the first time in 2014 by defeating SP's Naseer Ahmad Khan.
- Asansol (West Bengal): One of the state's multiple constituencies to have witnessed a lot of poll-related violence will see BJP's star candidate and Union Minister Babul Supriyo facing Trinamool's Moon Moon Sen who is the incumbent MP from Bankura. Historically, Trinamool has never won from Asansol. Even its parent party Congress last won in 1984, during the election after Indira Gandhi's assassination.
- East Delhi: A traditional BJP stronghold, Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP has fielded Atishi Marlena known to script the development in Delhi's government schools under the Kejriwal government. Against her, the BJP has pitted cricketer-turned-politician Gautam Gambhir, and the two have had a short, sharp and unsavoury campaign against each other, so much so that senior Congress leader Arvinder Singh Lovely has been reduced to somewhat of an also-ran.
- Mumbai South (Maharashtra): Here, Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant is having a face-off against Congress' Mumbai chief Milind Deora. Deora attracted a lot of attention when big industrialists including Mukesh Ambani backed him. While in 2014, Arvind Sawant had beaten Milind Deora by 1.28 lakh votes, in 2009, Deora had beaten Bala Nandaonkar of the MNS by 1.12 lakh votes.
- Mumbai North (Maharashtra): Congress has fielded newly-inducted actor-turned-politician Urmila Matondkar against BJP's Gopal Shetty. In 2014, Gopal Shetty had beaten Congress heavyweight and former Mumbai chief Sanjay Nirupam by 4 lakh votes. In 2009, Nirupam had won by beating BJP’s Ram Naik in a neck-and-neck fight. Govinda is a past holder of the seat, contesting on a Congress ticket. Urmila Matondkar will be looking to emulate her 'Kunwara' co-star.
- Patna Sahib (Bihar) - A mouthwatering contest looms in Bihar's Patna Sahib constituency as former BJP leader and now a Congress member Shatrughan Sinha is pitted against Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. In the BJP bastion, Sinha has said that people of Bihar will vote for 'dhartiputra'.
- Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh): While Shatrughan Sinha joined Congress, his wife Poonam Sinha joined the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi party and is contesting from Lucknow against BJP's Rajnath Singh. The Congress, meanwhile, has fielded Acharya Pramod Krishnam. This seat has been held by the BJP since 1991 with Rajnath winning the seat the first time in 2014. Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee has also previously held this prestigious seat.
- Sivaganga (Tamil Nadu): Here, it’s a direct fight between Congress and BJP, namely P Chidamabaram’s son Karti Chidambaram and BJP’s H Raja. The sitting MP is PR Senthilnathan of AIADMK who beat Dhurai Raaj Subha of DMK in the 2014 general elections. H Raja of BJP came third and is the BJP-AIADMK's contender this time around.
- Mandya (Karnataka): This constituency in Karnataka has an interesting battle with actor-turned-politician Nikhil Gowda who is the son of Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy and grandson of former PM HD Deve Gowda taking on Sumalatha Ambareesh. Sumalatha is the wife of Kannada superstar Ambareesh, is contesting as Independent, but in a twist, has the support of the BJP as well as (allegedly and tacitly) the Congress.
- Thootokudi (Tamil Nadu): The constituency witnessed protests over the Sterlite copper plant last year in which 13 people were shot dead, and has witnessed volatility that may translate into anti-incumbency. Riding on the same, late DMK supremo Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi is contesting against BJP's Tamil Nadu chief Tamilisai Soundararajan.
- Nizamabad (Telangana): An outlier among the 543 constituencies going to polls in the 2019 elections, Nizamabad will see sitting MP K Kavitha, daughter of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, square up against 179 farmers (aside from other politicians) who are contesting en masse. The 179 farmers entered the fray as a mark of protest, alleging that the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) had failed to ensure Minimum Support Price for turmeric and red jowar (sorghum) produce and in getting the Turmeric Board established in Nizamabad. The polling necessitated the use of a record number of EVMs per polling booth, as per the EC.
- Wayanad (Kerala): Congress chief Rahul Gandhi contesting from this constituency apart from Congress' bastion in Amethi has made the relatively new seat becoming a national talking point. Against him are PP Suneer of CPI(M) and Thushar Vellappally of Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (an ally of BJP). Interestingly, Congress chief will be fighting with three namesakes: two Independent candidates, K.E. Rahul Gandhi and K.M. Shivprasad Gandhi, and K. Raghul Gandhi of the Agila India Makkal Kazhagam party.
- Nanded (Maharashtra): Maharashtra's Nanded is one of the few constituencies that held out during the 2014 Modi wave. A Chavan family bastion, Ashok Chavan is pitted against BJP's Pratap Chikhalikar, who is an MLA in the assembly. Historically, barring four times, Congress has always won Nanded. BJP has won from the seat once, in 2004.
- Kendrapara (Odisha): Odisha's Kendrapara seat will witness a contest between Baijayant 'Jay' Panda who was the BJD MP from 2009 till he resigned in 2018 and joined BJP. Declared the vice president of the party, he is pitted against BJD's actor-turned-politician Anubhav Mohanty who is a Rajya Sabha member.
- Bangalore South (Karnataka): The saffron bastion will see BJP's Tejasvi Surya take on Congress’ BK Hariprasad. After the untimely death of BJP leader and union minister Ananth Kumar who had held the constituency since 1996, BJP has fielded a young face in Tejasvi Surya. The late Ananth Kumar had beaten Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, then a Congress candidate, in 2014.
- Jodhpur (Rajasthan): Senior Congress leader and Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot's son Vaibhav Gehlot has been fielded against BJP's Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. This is a prestige battle if ever there was one and also, somewhat of a verdict on the senior Gehlot's four months at the helm os the state.
- Jaipur Rural (Rajasthan): An interesting electoral contest is on the cards in Rajasthan’s Jaipur Rural constituency where two Olympians — BJP’s Col Rajyavardhan Rathore and Congress’ Krishna Poonia — will face each other in the Lok Sabha polls. Col Rathore is the sitting MP.
- Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh): A BJP bastion, this constituency has taken centrestage ever since the BJP fielded Malegaon blast-accused Sadhvi Pragya from the seat against Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh. Singh has been CM of Madhya Pradesh and is contesting an election after a gap of almost 19 years, the last being the assembly election he contested in 2003. He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 2014 from Madhya Pradesh. The BJP however has consistently been winning the seat of Bhopal since 1989. BJP's Alok Sanjar is the sitting MP from the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat. What makes the contest especially interesting, however, is the fact that Digvijaya Singh was one of the most significant proposers of 'Saffron terror/Hindu terror' which cited the Malegaon blasts among others.
- Dhubri Rural (Assam): Assam's Dhubri constituency is a battle to watch out for. It is the bastion of AIUDF. However, there seems to be disillusionment with AIUDF among its core voters - the Bengali speaking Muslims of Lower Assam. AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal is contesting against Congress candidate is Abu Tehar Bapari, a two time MLA from Gokolganj. BJP is not contesting with ally AGP contesting under NDA colours from the seat. Its candidate is Javed Islam, who is son of veteran Congress leader from the district Zehirul Islam. The Trinamool too has fielded a strong candidate in lawyer Nurul Islam Chaudhary, who was with AIUDF previously.
- Arunachal West (Arunachal Pradesh): Union Minister and one of the most popular faces in the Modi government, Kiren Rijiju, is seeking re-election from this seat. However, he is up against a formidable opponent in former Arunachal Pradesh CM Nabam Tuki. Jarjum Ete of JD(S), Khoda Apik of the National Peoples' Party (NPP) are also candidates that are expected to get traction among voters.
- Solapur (Maharashtra): This constituency in Maharashtra is one to watch for as Congress veteran Sushil Kumar Shinde is fighting his 'last election'. Against him is Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of BR Ambedkar, who is the head of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) and has the backing of the AIMIM. BJP has replaced its sitting MP Sharad Bansode and has fielded Lingayat seer Jaisiddeshwar Swami. The pontiff of the Gaudegaon math in Solapur's Akkalkot is BJP's big gambit from the textile town.
- Nagpur (Maharashtra): Maharashtra's Nagpur seat is one of the state's most high-profile constituencies which also houses the headquarters of the RSS and will see Nitin Gadkari do battle with former BJP MP and current Congress candidate Nana Patole.
- Madhepura (Bihar): The sitting MP of Madhepura is Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav who won the Lok Sabha seat in 2014 by defeating Sharad Yadav. While in 2014 he won on an RJD ticket, Pappu Yadav has since formed his own party - Jan Adhikar party - upon being expelled by Lalu Yadav. He will once again take on Sharad Yadav.
- North Central Mumbai (Maharashtra): Late former union minister Pramod Mahajan's daughter Poonam Mahajan is up against Sunil Dutt's daughter Priya Dutt. In 2014, Poonam Mahajan had defeated Priya Sunil Dutt by almost 3 lakh votes. This time, Sanjay Dutt has lent some star heft to his sister's campaign. She has held the constituency before, beating Mahesh Jethmalani of the BJP in 2009.
- Anantnag (Jammu and Kashmir): Mehbooba Mufti is contesting the Parliamentary elections from the Anantnag constituency and the polls are more than likely to be a referendum on her Chief Ministership which ended abruptly when the BJP pulled its support to her PDP. The NC has fielded former HC judge Justice Hasnain Masoodi who in 2015 ruled that Article 370 of the Constitution cannot be revoked. The Congress has fielded its state chief GA Mir, who lost Dooru assembly constituency to Mehbooba's uncle in 2014. BJP, not exactly a major player in Anantnag, has fielded Sofi Youssaf.
- North East Delhi: Longest-serving Delhi CM and current Congress state president Sheila Dikshit is contesting against incumbent MP and BJP Delhi chief Manoj Tiwari in a heavyweight battle. Also in the fray is AAP's Dilip Pandey, making it a triangular battle.
- Puri (Odisha): BJP's national spokesperson Sambit Patra is taking on Congress' Odisha unit media cell chairman Satyaprakash Nayak and incumbent BJD MP Pinaki Mishra, a spokesman of Naveen Patnaik's party.
- Gurdaspur (Punjab): Actor-turned-politician Sunny Deol who recently joined BJP is pitted against Congress sitting MP Sunil Jakhar. Jakhar won the seat in the bypolls in 2017 following the demise of BJP MP and actor Vinod Khanna. The constituency was traditionally a Congress stronghold but in 1998 Vinod Khanna defeated Congress stalwart Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder. Khanna won again in 1999 and 2004. In 2009, he faced defeat at the hands of Congress leader Partap Singh Bajwa but in 2014 won again by defeating Bajwa.
Apart from the above, there are a number of other headline seats. Some that are eye-catching but presumed to be a tad one-sided include Varanasi where PM Modi is contesting against Congress’ Ajay Rai, Gandhinagar where BJP chief Amit Shah is contesting from his and the BJP's bastion, Raebareli where UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi is contesting, Azamgarh where Akhilesh Yadav is in the fray and others. Other bonafide contests include Haryana, where Congress has brought back its strongman former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda and his son, while the BJP is contesting to repeat its 2014 performance, despite the anti-incumbency wave for the Manohar Lal Khattar government. In Himachal Pradesh, BJP's three-time MP and former state president of the party state Anurag Thakur is facing stiff competition from the Congress’ Ram Lal Thakur, former athlete and five-time legislator in the Hamirpur parliamentary constituency. In Uttarkhand’s Tehri Lok Sabha seat, sitting BJP MP Mala Rajya Laxmi Shah of the erstwhile royal family of Tehri state takes on Congress party state chief Pritam Singh.
Counting day is May 23 and results of all 543 Lok Sabha constituencies will be declared on the same day. Watch Republic TV for the quickest and most accurate trends, and the most incisive and detailed analysis with Arnab and team.