New Delhi, April 11 (IANS) As voters cast their ballot in the first phase of Lok Sabha polls for 91 seats across 18 states and two union territories, it is the Bharatiya Janata Party that has a lot at stake. It had won 32 of these seats in 2014.
The Congress fared poorly in the last parliamentary elections and could win only seven of these 91 seats. Five of its seats came from the North-East where the BJP has considerably consolidated its position in the last five years.
The battle is tough for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, where it had won all the eight seats that have to the polls today. This time, the party faces challenge from the coalition of Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal. Analysts say it will be difficult for the BJP to repeat its 2014 performance.
In Uttarakhand, where BJP had won all the five seats in 2014, the party faces strong candidates from Congress, including former Chief Minister Harish Rawat and Manish Khanduri, son of former Union Minister Major General B.C. Khanduri.
The "nationalism" narrative of the BJP seems to be a strong factor in the hills which has a large population of ex-servicemen and those serving in the uniformed forces.
The BJP faces a stronger challenge in Assam with its stand on the Citizenship Amendment Bill which has been opposed by its allies. The Asom Gana Parishad, its ally in Assam, is opposed to the Bill which finds a mention in the BJP manifesto.
In Bihar, BJP had won three of the four seats going to the polls and is now contesting one.
The BJP and its ally Shiv Sena had in 2014 won all the seven seats going to polls in the first phase in Maharashtra, but the BJP later lost one seat.
The first phase election will decide the fate of six Union Ministers -- Nitin Gadkari (Nagpur), Hansraj Ahir (Chandrapur), General V.K. Singh (Ghaziabad), Mahesh Sharma (Gautam Buddha Nagar), Satyapal Singh (Baghpat) and Kiren Rijiju (Arunachal West).
As it tries to retain its seats, BJP will also be seeking to gain in two seats each in West Bengal, Manipur and Tripura.
The Congress is hopeful of scaling up its numbers from seven particular from Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Assam and Uttarakhand.
The BJP and Congress are not seen as major players in Andhra Pradesh, which is undergoing both Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
BJP spokesperson Bizay Sonkar Shastri said the party will improve its performance compared to the last Lok Sabha polls.
"Nationalism is a factor. The people continue to have faith in Modiji. Various government programmes have taken off, making an impact among communities seen to be loyal to other parties," Shastri told IANS.
He said there was "a visible wave" last time but this time it "is an inner current".
Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha said the party will do "much better than last time."
Prominent leaders whose fate will be decided in the first phase are Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao's daughter K. Kavitha (Nizamabad), Former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi's son Gaurav Gogoi (Kalibor), Union Minister Ramvilas Paswan's son Chirag Paswan (Jamui) and AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi (Hyderabad).
In Tura, former Union Minister Agatha Sangma is fighting former Chief Minister Mukul Sangma of Congress.