World’s Biggest Election Sees Politicians Pitched Against Actors

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India, a usually noisy nation, has gotten louder.

Thousands of candidates across national and regional parties, as well as independent hopefuls, are seeking the attention of nearly a billion eligible voters with high-decibel political speeches, rallies and campaigns.

Soaring temperatures have done little to dampen the spirit of politicians. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has raised the heat — and earned the opposition’s ire — with his aggressive and polarizing speeches, hoping to win a third straight term. Challenger Rahul Gandhi, in alliance with more than 20 parties, is attempting to stop Modi’s juggernaut.

The once-in-five-year festival of democracy in the world’s most populous nation has actors, sport stars and millionaires battling it out alongside the career politicians.

Of the 543 seats in the parliament, here are some of the most keenly watched contests:


Will he, Won’t he. That’s the question dominating the discourse in Amethi, as voters debate whether Rahul Gandhi, a senior leader with the Indian National Congress, will once again contest for the family bastion he lost to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Smriti Irani in 2019. The small town in India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh has elected Gandhi to parliament thrice in the past, and his parents and an uncle prior to that. Meanwhile, Gandhi is contesting again from Wayanad, a district in the picturesque southern state of Kerala, from where he won last time. Indian politicians sometimes contest from more than one constituency, hoping to win at least one to ensure a seat in parliament.

But, Gandhi’s party is yet to declare a candidate for Amethi, leading to much speculation. Irani, who routed Gandhi in his pocket-borough in 2019, is contesting once again. The city will vote on May 20, in the fifth of the seven phase election, in what is expected to be one of the most-watched contests.


Sonia Gandhi, the former president of the Congress party, who’s won the last five elections from Raebareli, has decided to stay out of the fray this time. The constituency, about 60 kilometers (37.282 miles) west of Amethi, has long been dominated by the Gandhi family, with her late mother-in-law and former prime minister Indira Gandhi winning the seat thrice.

The party is yet to reveal its candidate for the constituency fueling talk about Sonia’s daughter Priyanka being the likely candidate. Some Indian newspapers have reported that Modi’s BJP may field Priyanka’s cousin Varun Gandhi, after the party denied him a chance to contest again from his usual constituency of Pilibhit.


The postcard-perfect region, home to snow-capped Himalayan peaks and serene lakes, has occasionally witnessed bloody clashes between Indian and Chinese troops along a long, disputed border. The BJP is trying to score a hat-trick of wins here, even as it battles rising local angst.

Part of the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir, broken into two federally-controlled territories after Modi’s government scrapped its autonomy in 2019, Ladakh is demanding statehood. Climate activist Sonam Wangchuk has rallied people to press for it and is seeking action to protect the fragile ecology of the strategically crucial region, nestled between Tibet and Pakistan. The BJP has picked a new candidate, dropping 2019 winner Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, who is in open rebellion against the party.


The capital city of southern state of Kerala — known for its pristine beaches, backwaters and the traditional medical practice of Ayurveda — is witnessing a nail-biting three-cornered fight. Congress’ Shashi Tharoor, a former minister and under-secretary-general of the United Nations, is vying for a fourth straight term. The BJP has fielded junior technology minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar hoping to unsettle Tharoor and win a seat in a state that has traditionally shown little interest in the party’s right-wing politics.


Nicknamed the ‘Manchester of South India’, this industrial city in Tamil Nadu is among the most closely-watched parliamentary contests, and crucial to Modi’s ambitions of expanding his party’s presence in the southern states. Desperate to win a few seats, the BJP has fielded former police officer K. Annamalai against strong challengers from regional parties. Annamalai, who’s campaigned close to 10,000 km on foot, has garnered popularity in the recent months. Modi, the BJP’s star campaigner, has visited the state six times this year to bolster the party’s chances.


A quaint little town, north of West Bengal’s capital Kolkata, is the epicenter of one of the most intense political battles in the ongoing national elections. The BJP has left no stone unturned to win a majority of the state’s seats. Standing in their way is firebrand regional leader Mamata Banerjee. Her party’s candidate from the constituency is former JPMorgan Chase & Co. banker Mahua Moitra, a fierce and vocal critic of Modi and his party. Moitra was expelled from parliament last year on allegations of ‘unethical conduct.’ The BJP has fielded Amrita Roy, a member of the town’s erstwhile royal family. The constituency is famous for its globally-acclaimed clay models.


The parliamentary constituency, located about 250 kms east of Mumbai, is considered the family bastion of wily politician Sharad Pawar — a king-maker who holds considerable sway in one of the country’s most industrialized states, Maharashtra. His daughter Supriya Sule is seeking a fourth straight term from the seat. The contest, this time, is expected to be a tough one. Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar is pitting his wife Sunetra Ajit Pawar against Sule. Ajit had split his uncle’s party to side with the BJP — and was made a deputy chief minister in the state government. Since then, both Ajit and Sunetra’s names have been cleared by the country’s investigative agencies in cases related to multi billion-rupee scams.


A young, independent candidate is making waves in the desert town of Barmer in the western state of Rajasthan. The BJP won the constituency in the last two elections. The district of Barmer shares a long border with neighboring Pakistan, and is considered one of the hottest places in the country. Summer temperatures regularly hit 40C (104F). Ravindra Singh Bhati, a 26-year-old student leader who sprung a surprise by winning in last year’s Rajasthan assembly elections, is raising the heat further and is set to give the BJP and the Congress a run for their money.

--With assistance from Santosh Kumar.

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