The campaigning for the first phase of the high-stake Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections will come to an end tomorrow in 73 constituencies spread over 15 districts including riot-scarred Muzaffarnagar and Shamli. Polling in these constituencies will be held on February 11.
BJP had won just 11 of the 73 seats in 2012, but improved its performance significantly in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The party has gone all out this time to woo the electorate. The saffron brigade was led by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP National President Amit Shah, both of whom hopped from one venue to another in a race against time.
Modi asked people to “rid the state of SCAM – S for Samajwadi (party), C for Congress, A for Akhilesh (Yadav) and M for Mayawati”, saying they have to choose between development agenda of BJP and those who give shelter to criminals, indulge in vote bank politics and encourage land and mine mafias.
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Not to take the comment lying down, Samajwadi Party President and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in his rallies told the electorate that SCAM actually stood for ‘Save the Country from Amit Shah and Modi’.
Hitting back at Modi, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi alleged that one who is in the wrong, sees scam in everything and said “S infact stands for ‘service’, C for ‘courage’, A for ‘ability’ and M for ‘modesty’.”
Both Modi and Shah slammed Congress and Samajwadi Party, saying Rahul ran a campaign against the SP government and wondered as to what happened overnight that they were embracing each other.
Taking potshots at Rahul and Akhilesh, the BJP chief said “both are ‘khoobsurat shehzade’ (good-looking princes) who are out to mislead the public… Mother is fed up with one and father is fed up with the other. How will they help UP? One has looted the country, while the other has looted the state”.
In his no-holds-barred attack, Shah said, “Congress-SP alliance is an alliance of corruption and criminalisation”.
Rahul, on the other hand, harped on the issue of note ban and attacked Modi, saying, “Demonetisation has hurt the poor most”. There would be a three-cornered fight between BJP, BSP and SP-Congress alliance in UP. Out of the 403 assembly seats, SP would be contesting 298 and Congress the rest 105.
With western UP having vast agricultural land, Modi played pro-poor and pro-farmers card and reiterated his party’s promise of waiving loans of small and marginal farmers and paying the dues of sugarcane growers within 14 days of coming to power. The Muslim-dominated areas in the belt will also be an acid test for BSP chief Mayawati, who is banking heavily on Dalit-Muslim vote bank. The region was once BSP’s favourite hunting ground.
This time, BSP is relying on Muslim support by giving them maximum 99 tickets (out of 403) and the poll outcome will reflect as to what extent Mayawati has been able to keep her Dalit support base intact amid intense wooing by BJP and also to what extent she can garner more Muslim support than last time.
In her rallies, Mayawati accused the Modi government of interfering with the personal law of Muslims and ending reservations for backward communities in jobs. She promised to extend quota benefits to the poor among the upper castes.
She also spewed venom at Samajwadi Party, saying the Akhilesh government had let loose a reign of terror with hooligans committing “utmost atrocities” against women. The BSP supremo cautioned Muslims time and again that if they wanted to defeat BJP, they should not waste their votes by backing SP-Congress alliance.
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The districts going to polls in the first phase are Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Gautam Buddha Nagar, Hapur, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Mathura, Hathras, Agra, Firozabad, Etah and Kasganj.
In 2012, both SP and BSP bagged 24 seats each, with Rashtriya Lok Dal headed by Ajit Singh bagging nine and Congress five. Surprisingly, in the Lok Sabha polls just two years later, none of these parties could open their account in the region.
The turnout of voters, especially minorities, in this phase and in the second phase as well could give an inkling of the mood of Muslims and determine if the overall contest will be between BJP and SP, or BJP and BSP, or whether it will be a three-cornered fight. The first phase of voting in the Muslim-dominated region could also throw light on the presence of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) led by Asaduddin Owaisi.
Over 2.57 crore voters including about 1.17 crore women will exercise their franchise in the first phase. Of them, 24.25 lakh are in the 18-19 age group.