New Delhi : The high-decibel battle for the ballot in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous and politically crucial state, starts Wednesday, when 55 assembly constituencies go to polls in the first phase.
A total of 1.70 crore people are eligible to vote in this round.
Campaigning for the first of the seven-phase polls ended Monday evening in districts like Pilibhit, Lakhimpur Kheri, Bahraich, Shravasti, Balrampur, Siddharth Nagar, Maharajganj and Kushinagar.
Among the important constituencies are Mahasi and Matera in Bahraich, Ayodhya in Faizabad, Sitapur, Kushinagar, Mubarakpur in Azamgarh and Gazipur.
Karnail Ganj will see two notorious criminals-turned-politicians contesting — Ajay Pratap Singh alias Lalla Bhaiyya of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Yogendra Pratap of the Samajwadi Party (SP).
In Basti, Abhishek Pal, son of Congress MP Jagdambika Pal, is in the fray, while veteran Congressman Amman Rizvi is contesting from Sitapur.
In Barabanki’s Dariyabad, Congress nominee Rakesh Verma, son of union Minister Beni Prasad Verma, is fighting against sitting SP lawmaker Rajiv Singh.
The districts in eastern Uttar Pradesh saw a Congress wave in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
The party emerged victorious in Barabanki, Gonda, Maharajganj, Faizabad and Domariyaganj Lok Sabha constituencies.
All candidates analysed by NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) from Mehdawal constituency in Sant Kabir Nagar district have declared criminal cases in their affidavits before the Election Commission.
Kushinagar district has highest number of candidates (21 out of 42) who have declared criminal cases against themselves, said ADR.
Police sealed the 500-km-long India-Nepal border along eight districts Monday.
The Feb 8-March 3 assembly elections in the state are significant for bigwigs like Chief Minister and BSP supremo Mayawati, Samajwadi Party chief and former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav besides Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi.
The elections are being seen by pundits as a precursor to the bigger political battle of the 2014 general elections.
Personally, Rahul Gandhi is determined to revive the Congress in the state it ruled two decades ago.
While Rahul has been campaigning across the state, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will also address rallies there.
Rahul is a Lok Sabha MP from Amethi, while Sonia represents Rae Bareli in the lower house of parliament.
Congress star campaigner and Rahul’s sister Priyanka Vadra is already reaching out to the voters in family bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli.
With the Dalit vote bank solidly behind her, Mayawati, who rode to power with an absolute majority in 2007, hopes to repeat the performance this time as well.
However, strong charges of corruption against her government, lack of development coupled with voters’ anti-incumbency sentiments could weigh Mayawati down, said experts.
Sensing a general dissatisfaction among people with the BSP due to these factors, the father-son duo of SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh are campaigning aggressively, with Mulayam positioning himself as a contender for the top executive job in the state.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), banking on its Other Backward Classes (OBC) leaders like Uma Bharti, too is hopeful of increasing its presence in the 403-member house.
Top BJP leaders like L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh and party chief Nitin Gadkari are campaigning in the state to boost party prospects.
Counting of votes will be held March 6.