New Delhi, April 16 (IANS) Polling begins at 7 a.m. Thursday in 121 Lok Sabha constituencies spread over 12 states in the sixth phase of staggered general election, officials said Wednesday.
Some 197 million electorate will be eligible to pick 121 members to the lower house of parliament from among 1,767 candidates in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
Simultaneous balloting will be held for 77 of the 147 assembly seats in Odisha and two assembly constituencies in West Bengal. The earlier polling in Odisha took place April 10.
"Tomorrow is a big day, and the Election Commission is all geared up," a senior official told IANS. "We have mobilized all resources for a free and fair election."
Election has already taken place in 111 Lok Sabha constituencies in the earlier five rounds of balloting that began April 7. Thursday will see the largest number of Lok Sabha seats in contention until now.
Among the prominent candidates Thursday are Ghulam Nabi Azad (Udhampur), Maneka Gandhi (Pilibhit), Shatrughan Sinha (Patna Sahib), Jaswant Singh (Barmer), M. Veerappa Moily (Chikkaballapur), Ananth Kumar and Nandan Nilekani (Bangalore South), Misha Bharti (Patliputra), Sachin Pilot (Ajmer), Sushilkumar Shinde (Solapur), Buta Singh (Jalore), Ashok Chavan (Nanded), Gopinath Munde (Beed), Supriya Sule (Baramati), V. Balakrishnan (Banglaore Central), B.S. Yeddyurappa (Shimoga), and S.S. Ahluwalia and Bhaichung Bhutia (Darjeeling).
According to the Election Commission, about 1.37 million staff will oversee the polling in 225,387 centres until 6 p.m., barring in the lone Manipur parliamentary seat where balloting will end at 4 p.m.
Weeks of hectic campaigning including rallies and road shows for the sixth round ended Tuesday evening.
Thursday will see election in all 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka, 20 in Rajasthan, 19 in Maharashtra, 11 each in Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, seven in Bihar, six in Jharkhand, four in West Bengal, three in Chhattisgarh and one each in Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir.
In West Bengal, all eyes are on Darjeeling where football icon Bhaichung Bhutia (Trinamool Congress) is pitted against S.S. Ahluwalia (BJP).
Bihar's 117 candidates also include former union home secretary R.K. Singh (BJP).
In Rajasthan, voting will take place in 20 of the 25 constituencies including Jaipur, Jhunjhunu, Churu, Bikaner, Jodhpur, Barmer, Udaipur, Bhilwara, Ajmer and Banswara.
In Karnataka, 434 candidates are in the fray. Most constituencies will see four-way contests involving the BJP, the Congress, Janata Dal-Secular and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
The 19 seats in Maharashtra are located in Marathwada, the sugar-rich belt in the western part of the state and coastal Konkan.
In Uttar Pradesh, the 11 constituencies, including Moradabad, Nagina, Rampur, Aonla and Pilibhit, have 151 candidates. BJP's Maneka Gandhi is trying her luck for the sixth time in a Lok Sabha contest.
In Jammu and Kashmir, union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad is facing his career's biggest challenge in Udhampur.
In Chhattisgarh, veteran Congress leader Ajit Jogi is contesting from Mahasamund while Chief Minister Raman Singh's son Abhishek Singh is making his electoral debut in Rajnandgaon.
Among the seats going to the polls in Jharkhand are Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Giridih and Hazaribagh.
Four more rounds of Lok Sabha election will take place until May 12. The millions of votes cast across the country will be counted May 16 - to know which party or coalition will get to rule India the next five years.