New Delhi: Ten constituencies in western Uttar Pradesh and Bihar that will vote in the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections on April 11 would decide the fate of key leaders such as veteran politician Ajit Singh and union ministers V.K. Singh and Mahesh Sharma, among others.
The first phase of the elections in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state that sends 80 MPs to Parliament, is crucial as any polarisation in the western part - as seen during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections - may help the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) get an impressive tally.
Here's a look at eight constituencies in Uttar Pradesh.
Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh, a candidate of the SP-BSP-RLD alliance, is pitted against former Union minister Sanjiv Balyan in Muzaffarnagar, where Muslim voters dominate in all five assembly segments of this Lok Sabha seat. There are approximately 17 lakh voters, among whom Muslims constitute over 26 per cent followed by 15 per cent Jatavs and around eight per cent Jats.
A six-term MP from Baghpat, Singh has served as a minister in the Cabinets of four Prime Ministers - V.P. Singh, P.V. Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. The Congress has not fielded a candidate and is supporting Singh.
In 2014, Ajit Singh, son of the late Chaudhary Charan Singh, was defeated in his traditional Baghpat constituency by the BJP's Satyapal Singh.
In 2014, Balyan defeated the BSP's Kadir Rana with a margin of 40,000 votes and was rewarded with a ministerial berth in the Narendra Modi government.
Sugarcane dues, law and order and depleting income of farmers are major issues in this constituency, where Khap panchayats play a significant social role among Jats.
The people of the region are of the opinion that it is not going be a cakewalk for any of the two leaders.
Union Minister V.K. Singh, who is seeking his re-election, is locked in a triangular contest with Suresh Bansal, the candidate of the SP-RLD-BSP coalition and Congress nominee Dolly Sharma, a young professional with a political lineage.
The 27.26 lakh voters of Ghaziabad are spread across five assembly seats - Sahibabad, Ghaziabad, Modinagar, Muradnagar and Loni - where Muslims, Gujjars, Vaishyas, Brahmins dominate the caste matrix.
However, the two assembly segments - Sahibabad which comprises the new township, and Ghaziabad, which covers the old city area - together make up for 51 per cent of the voter base, giving the Ghaziabad Lok Sabha seat a distinctly urban imprint.
Bansal, who quit the BSP to join the SP, is banking on the support of the Vaishya community to which he belongs. He is also known to have a grip on the backward class voters in the region given his years in the BSP.
Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Friday held a roadshow in Ghaziabad while Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday addressed a rally in support of V.K. Singh.
Gautam Budh Nagar (Noida)
The fate of Union Minister Mahesh Sharma is at stake here in a triangular contest. The Congress has fielded Arvind Kumar Singh, while the BSP's Satveer is the joint candidate of the SP-BSP-RLD alliance.
Sharma, a native of Rajasthan's Alwar district, had shifted his base to Noida two decades ago. He started his political journey as a party worker and was fielded as a Lok Sabha candidate from Gautam Budh Nagar in 2009. However, Sharma came second, bagging 2.29 lakh votes against the BSP's Surendra Nagar, who was polled 2.45 lakh votes.
But Sharma continued his political struggle and was fielded from Noida in the 2012 assembly alections. He received 77,226 votes (36.87 per cent) and defeated the BSP's Omdutt Sharma, who bagged 49,582 votes (23.67 per cent).
This strengthened Sharma and he was again fielded in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. This time Sharma, riding the Modi wave, garnered 599,702 votes against second placed Narendra Bhati of the Samajwadi Party (319,490).
Thirteen candidates, including two Independents are in fray in this constituency.
Union Minister Satyapal Singh is seeking re-election from this Jat dominated constituency. RLD leader Ajit Singh's son Jayant Chaudhary is contesting against him as the joint SP-BSP-RLD candidate.
Choudhary previously represented Mathura in the Lok Sabha, which he lost to actor-turned-politician Hema Malini in the 2014 elections.
The RLD had held the Baghpat seat from 1999 until 2014 when the BJP wrested it. Ajit Singh was third in the quadrangular contest, behind Satyapal Singh and the SP's Ghulam Mohhamed in the 2014 polls, a year after communal riots hit the region.
The BJP has repeated its outgoing MP Raghav Lakhanpal, while the Congress has fielded Imran Masood who had put up a strong fight in 2014, when he lost to Lakhanpal by about 65,000 votes.
The BSP's Fazlur Rahman, whe owns meat and food processing units and also has clout in the area, is the candidate of the BSP-SP-RLD alliance.
Saharanpur presents a unique picture. The constituency has a large presence of Muslims. The BJP had won the seat in 2014 and the scenario could repeat in 2019, given that both the Congress and the BSP have put up strong candidates from the Muslim community.
The significance of Saharanpur can be judged from the fact that Uttar Pradesh BJP started its campaign for the Lok Sabha elections from the constituency and Bahujan Samaj Party-Samajwadi Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal combine will hold its first joint rally here.
The two constituencies in Bihar:
It's once again a straight fight between two powerful castes - a forward and a backward - in the Nawada rural and semi-urban parliamentary constituency that is still lagging on the development front.
Like in the last polls, it will be the landed and powerful Bhumihar upper caste and dominant Yadav backward caste who will face-off.
The ruling NDA has fielded, with a twist, another Bhumihar in place of Union Minister Giriraj Singh, who has been shifted to Begusarai, and the opposition Grand Alliance a Yadav, with both depending on the social support base of their allies.
This time, Nawada went to the LJP under seat sharing formula of NDA in lieu of the Munger seat it holds and which has gone to the JD-U.
The LJP was expected to field Veena Devi, sitting party MP from Munger and wife of former MP Surajbhan Singh, who has a criminal past, Instead, party decided to field Chandan Kumar, Surajbhan Singh's younger brother.
Political compulsions, in view of the caste equation as winnability, forced the Grand Allinace to to field Vibha Devi, wife of expelled RJD MLA Rajballabh Yadav, who has been sentenced to life imprisonment for raping a minor girl.
Though there are 13 candidates are in fray, the main fight will be between Chandan Kumar and Vibha Devi.
For the first time in decades, the main fight is not between two upper caste Rajput candidates. This time, a powerful Rajput candidate is facing a strong challenge from an extremely backward caste (EBC) candidate.
Maoist affected Aurangabad district is also known as the mini-Chittorgarh of Bihar for the political domination of Rajputs for years despite commanding only 12.5 per cent of the over 17 lakh electorate. It was a traditional seat of the Congress but the party is not contesting the polls this time and the seat has gone to the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) under seat sharing formula of the opposition Grand Alliance (Mahagathbandhan).
Playing the backward caste card to break the monopoly of the Rajputs, who have been winning the seat since 1952, the Grand Alliance has fielded an EBC leader, Upendra Prasad, belonging to the Dangi community, which has sizeable voters in the constituency.
The NDA has fielded sitting BJP MP Sushil Singh, a Rajput, on the winnability factor. Sushil Singh belongs to a storied family that challenged the first political family of Aurangabad - that of veteran Congress leader Satyanarayan Sinha, popularly known as 'Chhote Saheb'.