India elections: Battleground seats

India is due to elect a new government by 31 May Many shops in the country are selling campaign material of the top political parties

The world's biggest voting spectacle has started in India with thousands of candidates aspiring to become MPs.

The first phase of polling started on 7 April. The ninth and last will be held on 12 May.

Votes will be counted on 16 May.

Candidates from all parties are touring the length and breadth of their constituencies to woo voters.

The BBC Monitoring profiles some of the most hotly-contested seats.

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Varanasi
Arvind Kejriwal (left) and Narendra Modi are confident of winning the Varanasi seat Arvind Kejriwal (left) and Narendra Modi are fighting over the Varanasi seat

The city of Varanasi is the most talked-about constituency because of the presence of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal.

Murali Manohar Joshi, one of the founding members of the BJP, had won the seat in the 2009 election. But he had to make way for Mr Modi this time in what analysts say was the BJP's attempt to mark a "generational shift" in the party

Observers say the BJP has fielded Mr Modi from the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to attract voters in the politically crucial state which elects 80 MPs.

But Mr Kejriwal's entry has made the contest more interesting. The former chief minister of Delhi is contesting a general election for the first time.

His party was born out of a strong anti-corruption movement that swept India three years ago.

The Congress, a latecomer to this contest, has named local leader Ajay Rai as its candidate.

The holy city of Varanasi is a popular tourist destination, but it is also known for its poor infrastructure.

Profile: Narendra Modi

Profile: Arvind Kejriwal

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Amethi
From left to right, Smriti Irani, Rahul Gandhi and Kumar Vishwas are locked in a three-way battle From left to right, Smriti Irani, Rahul Gandhi and Kumar Vishwas are locked in a three-way battle

Amethi has long been the bastion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Congress party vice-president Rahul Gandhi won the seat in this Uttar Pradesh seat in 2004 and 2009, but the contest appears to be much tougher in 2014.

Mr Gandhi is facing competition from the BJP's Smriti Irani and the AAP's Kumar Vishwas.

The AAP candidate has been campaigning since December and hopes that his party's "pro-poor" and "anti-corruption" ideology will attract enough votes to defeat Mr Gandhi.

Ms Irani, a former TV star, believes that her party will win due to what she describes as the "Modi wave" in favour of the BJP's prime ministerial candidate.

She has criticised Mr Gandhi over what she calls "an appalling lack of development in the city".

Amethi is a sleepy district in the plains of Uttar Pradesh and most residents say it needs better infrastructure and jobs for youth.

But the three-way personality-driven contest seems to have relegated to the background what the residents call "real issues" in Amethi.

Profile: Rahul Gandhi

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Ghaziabad
From left to right, Raj Babbar, Shazia Ilmi and General V K Singh are contesting from Ghaziabad From left to right, Raj Babbar, Shazia Ilmi and General VK Singh are contesting from Ghaziabad

Also in Uttar Pradesh, Ghaziabad is attracting a lot of attention due to a three-way contest between the three main parties.

The BJP president, Rajnath Singh, won Ghaziabad in 2009, but the party has fielded former army chief General VK Singh this time.

Gen Singh is contesting against the AAP's prominent leader Shazia Ilmi and the Congress' Raj Babbar.

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Chandni Chowk
From left to right, Ashutosh, Harsh Vardhan and Kapil Sibal say their party will win the general election From left to right, Ashutosh, Harsh Vardhan and Kapil Sibal are each confident of their win in the general election

Federal minister Kapil Sibal is trying to retain his seat by defeating the AAP's Ashutosh and the BJP's Harsh Vardhan.

The constituency has traditionally been won by the Congress, but both Ashutosh and Harsh Vardhan are confident of defeating Mr Sibal.

Ashutosh, a veteran journalist, was the editor of Hindi news channel IBN7 before joining the AAP. Harsh Vardhan was the BJP's chief ministerial candidate in last year's Delhi state elections.

The constituency is in the old part of the national capital and is famous for its narrow lanes and colourful shops selling delicious food, clothes and jewellery among other things.

But beyond the charm of tourism, the constituency suffers from clogged roads, bad sanitation facilities and poor water supply.

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Bangalore South
The BJP's Ananth Kumar (left) is contesting against the ruling Congress' Nandan Nilekani The BJP's Ananth Kumar (left) is contesting against the ruling Congress' Nandan Nilekani

Nandan Nilekani is the former head of Indian IT giant Infosys and is credited with making the firm a "great success story" with his colleagues.

The billionaire quit Infosys in 2009 to head the federal government's ambitious project to provide a unique identification number to half of India's billion-plus people.

He is a now a candidate in Bangalore South, in southern state of Karnataka, for the ruling Congress party against the BJP's Ananth Kumar, former federal minister, and the AAP's Nina Nayak.

Bangalore is known as India's IT capital and needs careful attention in infrastructure development to meet the needs of the city's growing population.

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Amritsar
The BJP's Arun Jaitley is taking on the Congress' Amarinder Singh The BJP's Arun Jaitley is taking on the Congress party's Amarinder Singh

The most important shrine of the Sikh faith - the Golden Temple - is in Amritsar and attracts pilgrims and tourists from all over the world.

Amritsar is being keenly watched this election season because of the two high-profile candidates contesting from the city.

The BJP's Arun Jaitley, the leader of the opposition in the upper house of parliament, is contesting against the former chief minister of Punjab, Amarinder Singh.

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Mumbai North-East
The AAP's Medha Patkar is a well-know social activist The AAP's Medha Patkar is a well-know social activist

Medha Patkar is a prominent social activist-turned-politician who is contesting elections from the Mumbai North-East constituency.

Ms Patkar, who joined the AAP last year, is known for starting the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement), a social movement against a big dam project on river Narmada in western India.

Ms Patkar is pitted against the sitting Nationalist Congress Party MP Sanjay Dina Patil and the BJP's Kirit Somaiya.

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Trivandrum
Shashi Tharoor campaigning in Kerala Shashi Tharoor (centre) is contesting from Trivandrum in the southern state of Kerala

Shashi Tharoor is India's junior minister for human resource development and represents the governing Congress party.

He is facing competition from the Left's Bennet Abraham and BJP veteran O Rajagopal.

Mr Tharoor is a former UN diplomat and is a celebrity on Twitter with more than two million followers.

He has complained that his rivals are using a personal tragedy in his family for personal gains.

His wife, Sunanda Pushkar, was found dead in January. Doctors said she may have died from a drug overdose. The couple were embroiled in a row days before her death over Twitter messages suggesting he was having an affair.

Police are investigating whether the overdose by Ms Pushkar, who was found dead in a hotel room in Delhi, was deliberate or accidental.

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Gandhinagar
LK Advani Veteran BJP leader LK Advani is contesting from Gandhinagar

LK Advani, one of the founding members of the BJP, is contesting from Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat state.

The Hindu nationalist leader has been winning from this constituency since 1998.

The BJP stalwart faces challenge from the Congress party's Kirit Patel, a former Gujarat state minister, and the AAP's Rituraj Mehta, a real estate businessman.

Mr Mehta, 49, feels age is on his side in the contest against the 86-year-old former Indian home minister.

However, Gandhinagar which serves as a central point of the industrial corridor between Delhi and Mumbai is still considered a safe seat for the BJP.

If at all Mr Advani loses, it will be counted as a big upset for the party.

Profile: Lal Krishna Advani

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Rae Bareli
Sonia Gandhi is president of the ruling Congress Party Sonia Gandhi is president of the ruling Congress Party

The Congress party president, Sonia Gandhi, has won the Rae Bareli seat in Uttar Pradesh state in the past three general elections.

The constituency is a Congress stronghold and Mrs Gandhi is hoping that it will remain so in 2014.

The main opposition BJP accuses Mrs Gandhi of not doing enough to develop the area and failing to solve the problem of unemployment.

The opposition party has fielded Ajay Aggarwal, a top lawyer, to break the Congress' grip on the seat.

Profile: Sonia Gandhi

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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