Prime Minister Narendra Modi will contest the Lok Sabha election from Varanasi, the seat he represents in Parliament, and BJP president Amit Shah will fight from Gandhinagar in place of veteran leader L K Advani as the party on Thursday announced its first list of 184 candidates for the general election.
BJP heavyweights such as Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari have been fielded from Lucknow and Nagpur seats respectively with the party reposing its faith in all but one Union minister from the constituency they had won in 2014.
Senior party leader J P Nadda released the list at a press conference on the auspicious day of Holi following three marathon meetings of its central election committee (CEC).
Union minister and fiery leader Smriti Irani will reprise her electoral battle with Congress president Rahul Gandhi from Amethi, where she had lost to him in 2014 but was seen to have put up a spirited fight.
The biggest surprise in the first list is dropping of Advani, the 91-year-old party stalwart who called the shots in the BJP for decades before Modi’s rise eclipsed him, from Gandhinagar and Shah’s decision to make his Lok Sabha poll debut from there.
Advani has been representing Gandhinagar in the Lok Sabha since 1998 and Shah was incidentally his poll manager in initial elections.
The BJP believes that Shah’s candidature will signal the party president’s intent to lead from the front and also energise workers, especially in Gujarat where it is facing a resurgent Congress.
It is also now unlikely that Modi will fight from the state. He had won from Vadodara in 2014 as well but resigned from there and kept Varanasi.
The BJP also renominated Union ministers V K Singh, Mahesh Sharma, Kiren Rijiju, D V Sadananda Gowda, Babul Supriyo from Ghaziabad, Gautam Buddha Nagar, Arunachal West, Bangalore North and Asansol, respectively. They had won from the same seats in 2014.
The party announced names of its 28 candidates from Uttar Pradesh and dropped six incumbent MPs, including Union minister Krishna Raj from Shahjahanpur and Scheduled Caste (SC) Commission head and Agra MP Ram Shankar Katheria.
It has renominated former cine star Hema Malini from Mathura.
It is locked in a tough battle with the SP-BSP alliance in the state and is expected to drop more sitting MPs in the days ahead as it announces names of its other nominees. UP sends the highest number of Lok Sabha MPs, 80, to the House and the BJP had won 71 of them in 2014.
Nadda said the party has also finalised names of all 17 party candidates from Bihar and sent the list to the state unit which will announce it jointly with allies JD(U) and Lok Janshakti Party.
Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is likely to be fielded from Patna Sahib and his ministerial colleague Giriraj Singh from Begusarai.
In the first list of 184 candidates, 16 are from Maharashtra, eight from Assam, two from Arunachal Pradesh, five from Chhatisgarh and Jammu and Kashmir each, 21 from Karnataka, 13 from Kerala, 10 from Odisha, 16 from Rajasthan, five from Tamil Nadu, 10 from Telangana, five from Uttarakhand, 28 from West Bengal and two from Andhra Pradesh.
The BJP has dropped former Union minister B C Khanduri from Garhwal and former Uttarakhand chief minister Bhagat Singh Koshyari from Nainital with Tirath Singh Rawat and Ajay Bhatt replacing them respectively.
Union ministers Jitendra Singh and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore will contest from Udhampur and Jaipur Rural, the seat they represent in the Lok Sabha, respectively with Baijayant Jay Panda being fielded from Kendrapara in Odisha.
Lok Sabha elections will begin on April 11 and continue for over a month till May 19 across seven phases, followed by counting of votes on May 23.
The polling will be held on April 11, April 18, April 23, April 29, May 6, May 12 and May 19 for 543 Lok Sabha seats across the country in which nearly 90 crore voters would be eligible to vote.