New Delhi: Seventy-three assembly constituencies in 15 communally sensitive and highly polarized districts of western Uttar Pradesh going to polls on Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The first phase of the seven-phased elections will witness four cornered contest between the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Congress alliance, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).
A total of 839 candidates are in the fray. While Agra south seat has the highest number of candidates (26), the lowest – six each – are from Hastinapur (Meerut), Iglas and Loni seats.
The seats that are keenly watched at are Noida where Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s son Pankaj is making debut in electoral politics, Mathura which is witnessing an intense battle between Congress legislature party leader Pradeep Mathur and BJP national spokesman Shrikant Sharma and Sardhana in Meerut where BJP’s Sangeet Som is challenged by SP’s Atul Pradhan.
Former state BJP president and sitting MLA Laxmikant Bajpayi is being challenged in a triangular contest by SP-Congress combine’s Rafiq Ansari and BSP’s Pankaj Jolly in Meerut city.
Kairana, Thana Bhawan and Sikandarabad are other high-profile seats.
In addition, the fates of Muzaffarnagar riot accused Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana (both Hindutva poster boys of the BJP) too would be decided in the first phase from Sardhana seat in Meerut and Thana Bhawan in Shamli.
Some seats of the Jat and Muslim dominated western UP will witness direct fight between the BJP and the BSP on seats, but the SP-Congress alliance and the RLD could surprise the formidable contestants.
The bickering within the BJP over candidate’s selection could adversely affect their prospect, which is totally banking on the polarisation of the elections and roping in all the majority community votes as happened during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
However, the issue migration of Hindus from Muslim-dominated Kairana in Shamli district raised by BJP MP Hukum Singh does not apparently have any impact but the 2013 communal riots in Muzaffarnagar may dominate the minds of the voters. It may go against the electoral interests of the SP-Congress alliance. On the other hand, the resentment among the Jat community over the denial of their demand for caste based reservation could prove to be detrimental for the BJP.
Candidates by the Ajit Singh-led RLD, AIMIM led by Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi and other smaller parties would impact the fate of the bigger parties and could spoil their fate. Owaisi aggressively campaigned in Muslim-dominated areas of western UP, while RLD is banking on its core Jat vote bank.
The RLD is contesting in 59 seats in the first phase. In the 2012 Assembly polls, the results in these 73 assembly segments were 24 in favour of the SP, 23 for the BSP, 12 for the BJP, nine for the RLD and five for the Congress.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had won all the 12 seats here and many veterans like Ajit Singh were drowned in the saffron surge.
Around 2.59 crore voters would exercise their franchise on February 11, of which 1.42 crore are men, 1.17 crore women and 1,511 from the third gender.
Many firsts in first phase
This was the first election in the electoral history of Uttar Pradesh that former Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, now a mere ‘mentor’ of the SP, did not campaign. Also, Congress President Sonia Gandhi did not address a single rally in the region due to ill-health.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi campaigned together in all poll-bound constituencies of the region.
Despite being named ‘star campaigner’, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra too did not join in the canvassing. Similarly, Kannauj MP Dimple Yadav and veteran actress Jaya Bachchan did campaign for party candidates.