Over 1,200 candidates will fight it out for 90 seats in the upcoming Chhattisgarh Assembly polls where besides the BJP and the Congress, smaller parties have also thrown their hat in the ring.
In the two-phase elections, voting for 18 seats spread across eight Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected districts, will be held on November 12 and for the other 72 seats on November 20. The counting of votes will be held on December 11.
This time, the coalition between the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), former chief minister Ajit Jogi's Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (J) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) has added another dimension to the electoral politics of Chhattisgarh, which has always been dominated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress.
While 190 candidates are in the fray for the first phase of polls, 1,101 nominees will battle it out in the second phase of the state elections.
After the deadline for withdrawal of nomination papers for the second phase of polls expired on Monday, 1,101 candidates are in the fray for 72 seats, a public relation officer at the office of state's Chief Electoral Officer here said.
As many as 2,655 nominations were filed for the second phase and of them, papers of 1,249 candidates were found valid after scrutiny. Of these, 148 candidates withdrew their nominations, leaving 1,101 aspirants for the polls on November 20, he said.
The deadline for withdrawal of nomination papers for the first phase of polls had ended on October 26.
With this, total 1,291 candidates are in fray now for the two-phase Chhattisgarh Assembly elections.
BJP state general secretary Santosh Pandey said his party has set a target to win 65 plus out of the total 90 seats this time and that they are "confident of achieving it".
"Booth-level workers have been asked to inform people about welfare schemes of the Centre and the state government and put in all their efforts to register victory for the fourth consecutive term," he said.
Chief of the state Congress communication wing Shailesh Nitin Trivedi also exuded confidence that his party will win the elections this time.
He said the Congress has fielded seniors as well as youth leaders to ensure victory.
"The party, during its campaign, has been highlighting the 15-year misrule of the Raman Singh government and reaching out to people. It is a well-planned strategy to win the election with a thumping majority," he added.
The first phase of voting will cover Antagarh, Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Bastar, Jagdalpur, Keshkal, Chitrakot, Dantewada, Bijapur, Konta, Khairagarh, Dongargarh, Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon, Khujji and Mohla-Manpur seats.
The highest number of 30 candidates will lock horns in the Rajnandgaon constituency, while the lowest number of five nominees will fight it out in Bastar and Kondagaon seats each.
The keenly-watched constituency will be Rajnandgaon, where Chief Minister Raman Singh of the ruling BJP and Congress candidate Karuna Shukla, niece of former prime minister late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, are in the fray.
Stakes are very high for the BJP on these 18 seats as it had lost 12 of them in the last polls in 2013.
In the last Assembly polls, of the total 90 seats, the BJP had won 49 seats, Congress 39, BSP 1 and independent 1.
Prominent candidates from the BJP for the November 20 polls include nine incumbent ministers - Brijmohan Agrawal (Raipur city south seat), Rajesh Munat (Raipur city west), Amar Agrawal (Bilaspur), Bhaiyyalal Rajwade (Baikunthpur), Ramsevak Paikra (Pratappur), Punnulal Mohile (Mungeli), Prem Prakash Pandey (Bhilai Nagar), Dayaldas Baghel (Nawagarh) and Ajay Chandrakar (Kurud) besides BJP state president Dharamlal Kaushik (Bilha).
The key Congress candidates include its state chief Bhupesh Baghel (Patan), Leader of Opposition in the Assembly T S Singhdeo (Ambikapur), party MP from Durg Lok Sabha seat Tamradhwaj Sahu (Durg rural) and former Union minister Charandas Mahant (Shakti).
Besides, Ajit Jogi is contesting from Marwahi, his wife Renu Jogi from Kota while his daughter-in-law Richa Jogi is a BSP nominee from Akaltara seat.
In the second phase, the highest number of 46 nominees will contest in the Raipur city south seat, while the lowest number of six will fight in the Bindranavagarh seat.
Of the 90 Assembly segments, 51 are general while 10 are reserved for Scheduled Castes and 29 for Scheduled Tribes.
As per the final electoral rolls, total 1,85,59,936 voters, including 92,95,301 males, 92,49,459 females and 1,059 third gender voters, will be exercising their franchise.
There are 19 constituencies where more than two ballot units will be used in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) as more than 16 candidates are in the fray there.
Similarly, more than three ballot units will be used in three constituencies as over 32 candidates are contesting from there.