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September 24, 1999


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74 constituencies gear up for polls

The 13th general elections enter phase four tomorrow, when 74 constituencies spread over UP, Bihar, MP, Orissa and Himachal Pradesh and four other states go to the polls amid stepped up security as a grim reminder of the violence which erupted on September 18.

An electorate of 80 million will decide the fate of 696 candidates in the fray for 24 Lok Sabha constituencies in UP, 19 in Bihar, 12 in Madhya Pradesh, 10 in Orissa, 4 in Himachal, 2 in Meghalaya and one each in Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur. By Saturday evening, polling for 418 out of the 545-member Lok Sabha would be over.

Security has been stepped up in Bihar and other states after violence erupted during the September 18 polling.

Key contests in UP include Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav (Sambhal), veteran Congress leader Narain Dutt Tiwari (Nainital), Union minister of state for agriculture Sompal Shastri and Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh (Baghpat), Union welfare minister Maneka Gandhi (Pilibhit)and Union minister of state for information and broadcasting Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi (Rampur).

In Bihar, Defence Minister George Fernandes is in the fray from Nalanda, his fellow Samata Party leader Nitish Kumar from Barh and former railway minister Ram Vilas Paswan from Hajipur. It will be the second stage of the elections in these two key states of the Hindi heartland.

In Uttar Pradesh, indications are that the BJP may find it hard to retain 17 out of the 24 constituencies. The remaining 31 constituencies, mainly from eastern part of the state, will go to polls on October 3. About 28 million voters are eligible to vote in 35, 073 polling centres spread over 30 districts of the state. Of these, 8,731 polling stations have been identified as hypersensitive and 5803 as sensitive.

The constituencies including three reserved ones are spread over thirty districts, mainly hills and western districts of the state.

The highest number of 22 candidates are in the fray from Muzaffarnagar while a lowest of eight candidates are contesting from Tehri Garhwal constituency. Employees on poll duty in eight polling stations of Almora constituency would reach there by helicopter while hundreds of polling stations of Tehri Garhwal and Garhwal constituencies could be reached by mules and other such means.

Out of a total of 320 candidates, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj party have fielded 24 candidates each while the BJP and the Congress are contesting on 21 and 18 seats respectively. Of these seats, the BJP has left Pilibhit seat again for Union Minister Maneka Gandhi while it has left Moradabad and Hardoi Res seats for its ally in the state, the Loktantrik Congress Party.

The Congress has spared six seats -- Bijnore (reserved), Amroha, Hapur, Baghpat, Kairana and Saharanpur -- for Bharatiya Lok Dal candidates on an electoral understanding.

State election office sources said that all possible steps have been taken to hold the second phase polling in Bihar in a free, fair and impartial manner in the wake of poll-related violence in the September 18, first phase election from the state.

Nearly 20 million voters are eligible to exercise their franchise through more than 29,000 polling centres to choose 19 representatives from 177 candidates in the fray. The electoral battle is expected to be mostly direct between the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal-led alliance and BJP-led combine in which the BJP's ally Janata Dal-United has very high stakes in this round of polls.

Its three main leaders -- George Fernandes, Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan's electoral fortune will be decided in the day's polling.

It will be the Vajpayee versus Sonia Gandhi factor which will decide the outcome of the first phase of Lok Sabha elections in Orissa. There are 45 candidates in the fray for ten of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state which would go to the polls on Saturday. The battle for ballots would be mostly confined to the ruling Congress and the BJP-Biju Janata Dal combine in the first phase election, although political parties like the CPI-M, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and JD-U have also entered the fray.

Over 12 million voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the 10 Lok Sabha seats spread over south Orissa, western Orissa and parts of north Orissa. Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang's wife Hema Gamang had jumped into the fray for the first time to contest the Koraput Lok Sabha seat, held by her husband eight times in a row since 1972. She would be facing a formidable BJD-BJP combine candidate Jayaram Pangi in a triangular contest.

Pradesh Congress chief Hemanand Biswal is also entering parliamentary politics for the first time. He is pitted against Union minister of state for surface transport Debendra Pradhan (BJP) in Deogarh in a six-cornered contest.

Amid tight security in the Naxalite areas, more than 12.80 million voters are eligible to go to polls to decide the fate of 99 candidates in 12 Lok Sabha constituencies in the third phase of polling in MP tomorrow. Among those who figure in this phase of elections are Union minister of state for steel and mines Ramesh Bais (Raipur), former UP governor Motilal Vora (Rajnandgaon), former chief minister Shyama Charan Shukla (Mahasamund), former Union ministers Kamal Nath (Chhindwara) and Vimla Verma (Seoni) and state Bahujan Samaj Party president Dauram Ratnakar (Sarangarh-SC).

The candidates of both the Congress and the BJP are in fray in Bilaspur-SC, Sarangarh-SC, Raipur, Mahasamund, Kanker-ST, Bastar-ST, Durg, Rajnandgaon, Balaghat, Mandla-ST, Seoni and Chhindwara constituencies. The BSP is contesting six seats while five candidates each of Nationalist Congress Party and Samajwadi Party are also in the fray.

A massive security cover has been thrown in five Naxalite-prone constituencies - Bastar-ST, Kanker-ST, Rajnandgaon, Mandla-ST and Balaghat -- which are spread over eight districts of Bastar, Dantewara, Kanker, Mandla, Dondori, Kawarda, Rajnandgaon, and Balaghat. Helicopters have been pressed into service for aerial surveillance of Naxalite areas while the police force had been provided with land mine detectors in view of incidents of land mine explosions in the previous elections.

Hyper-sensitive areas have been identified where polling officials and police force would walk on foot, instead of using vehicles. Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force and Special Armed Force have been positioned in the sensitive areas to ensure smooth conduct of polling. The state police was also in close coordination with its counterparts from neighbouring Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh to monitor the movements of Naxalites.

In view of the call given by the Peoples War group and its different 'dalams' for boycotting the elections, the police has intensified patrolling in the Naxalite-infested areas to instil confidence among the voters.


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