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Last Updated: Friday, 14 November, 2003, 11:15 GMT
Indian poll hopefuls file papers
BJP candidates
BJP candidates: Party hopes to unseat Congress
Nominations have closed in India for candidates contesting next month's key state elections.

Voting will be held in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh as well as the tiny state of Mizoram in the north-east.

India's governing Bharatiya Janata Party is hoping to unseat the main opposition Congress Party which controls the four main states.

Both parties are seeking gains ahead of national elections due next year.

Hindi heartland

The polls are taking place in the politically influential Hindi heartland - the northern and central Hindi-speaking belt which sends more members to parliament than any other region.

It also contains two of India's largest states - Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh - as well as the national capital, Delhi.

The polls are expected to be a straight fight between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and opposition leader Sonia Gandhi's Congress.

Smaller parties will have relatively limited impact, at the most influencing the outcome in a handful of constituencies, observers say.

They say local issues are likely to dominate the agenda with larger national issues relegated to the background.

Big names

On Friday, some of the key players filed their nominations including the leaders of the two main parties.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh filed his candidacy from Raghogarh.

Mr Singh is one of the Congress party's most charismatic figures and has already completed two terms in office.

If successful a third time, analysts believe he could be a key figure in next year's national elections.

The BJP's Uma Bharati, who led a campaign to build a temple over the ruins of a mosque in the northern city of Ayodhya, is the party's leader in Madhya Pradesh.

In Rajasthan, both the chief minister, Ashok Gehlot, of the Congress, and his BJP opponent, Vasundhara Scindia, filed their nomination papers.

Ms Scindia, a former minister in the federal government, belongs to one of India's most powerful aristocratic families with ties to the Nepalese and Kashmiri royal families.

Another woman, Shiela Dixit, is the Congress chief minister in Delhi.

She is also keen to return to power, hoping to be given credit for improving the capital's infrastructure.

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