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Lucknow: As murmurs in political circles grew about a probable washout for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the first two phases of the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, BJP leaders began a rather muted campaign that the saffron party’s performance in the remaining phases will be enough to earn them a comfortable majority.
One of the reasons cited was that almost three-fourths of the seats going to the polls in the third, fourth and fifth phases are those where Samajwadi Party’s core support base comprising Muslims and Yadavs, as well as the disgruntled Jats, are comparatively weaker in number. The BJP also believes – not unreasonably – that a majority of the central UP districts are its strongholds, where the SP is fighting without an influential ally.
The sixth and seventh phases, the BJP leaders say, are still going to be tightly-contested as the SP has the backing of the Om Prakash Rajbhar-led Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) as well as BJP rebels like Swami Prasad Maurya and others. Additionally, the constituencies going to polls in the last two phases have also seen a strong Bahujan Samaj Party challenge to the saffron party.
Against such a backdrop, the third phase, in which 59 assembly constituencies in 16 districts are going to polls, will be the saffron party’s first real test to retain its dominance. The BJP had won 49 of these seats, while the SP got merely nine. The Congress could only win one and the BSP drew a blank despite its significant presence in some of these districts.
Of the 16 districts, Etah, Mainpuri, Kannauj, Etawah, Etah and Firozabad have a sizeable number of Yadavs and Muslims, making the SP a strong contender. In the rest of the districts – Hathras, Kasganj, Farrukhabad, Auraiya, Kanpur Dehat, Kanpur, Jalaun, Jhansi, Lalitpur, Hamirpur and Mahoba – the BJP has emerged as the biggest party in recent times, although both the BSP and SP have a respectable organisational presence in these regions.
Ground reports indicate that the BJP is battling strong anti-incumbency among farmers and labourers in most of these districts, although their voting choices may also reflect their caste preferences. Nonetheless, the electoral outcome may show signs of a strong urban-rural divide, which the BJP in the last few elections had been able to breach.
Most opposition parties have focused on livelihood issues and universal concerns like the high unemployment rate, price rise of essential commodities and services under BJP rule, and farmers’ concerns. Their manifestos also have made targeted promises to different groups which centre around these issues.
The BJP, on the other hand, has mostly pitched itself as the party which has improved law and order in the state, making a case against SP’s alleged protection to the state’s mafia. Its development slogan isn’t as strong as the last few times, as the opposition parties have pointed towards a range of failures on the part of the Adityanath government. However, all BJP leaders have taken the credit for distribution of free ration to poor households during the pandemic and accelerating the PM Housing Scheme, and thus heavily depend on what they have been calling “laabarthis (beneficiaries)” of various welfare schemes of the Union and state governments.
Among the key candidates in the fray are SP’s chief ministerial candidate Akhilesh Yadav from Karhal, his uncle Shivpal Singh Yadav from Jaswantnagar, state’s industries minister BJP’s Satish Mahana from Maharajganj, the IPS officer who resigned days ahead of elections to contest from BJP Asim Arun from Kannauj, and wife of senior Congress leader Louis Khurshid from Farrukhabad.
Here is a look at some important seats in the third phase.
SP president Akhilesh is contesting his maiden assembly elections. As the chief minister from 2012-17, he remained a member of the legislative council. He is up against Union minister Satya Pal Singh Baghel, who before joining the BJP was considered one of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s closest aides. With around 1.25 lakh Yadav voters, Karhal is a safe seat for the Yadav family. It won the seat even during the saffron wave in 2017. However, by fielding a Union minister against him, BJP has sent a message across the state that it is not giving up the Yadav stronghold easily.
Shivpal had a bitter fight with Akhilesh in 2017, yet he retained the seat. Now the Yadav family has reunited and Shivpal is contesting on the SP symbol. The seat was won by SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav continuously from 1967 to 1993. Since then, Shivpal has been its legislator for five consecutive terms.
The seat shot to the limelight after a serving IPS officer, Asim Arun, resigned from the job to join the BJP. Arun, formerly the ATS chief, was SP Kanpur when he resigned and got into a controversy when he announced his decision to join BJP in his police uniform. As the BJP candidate from this reserved seat, he will be up against the three-time SP MLA Anil Dohre.
A bellwether seat, Kasganj has historically elected the party which comes to power. A few years ago, it garnered attention for a sudden Hindu-Muslim riot in which several Muslims were injured while one Hindu man was killed. Recently, the father of Chandan Gupta who died during the riots held a press briefing to say that most of the promises that chief minister Adityanath had made to the family remain unfulfilled until today. He accused the BJP government in the state of betraying Chandan Gupta.
This urban seat in Kanpur has elected UP industries minister and former Bajrang Dal leader Satish Mahana twice since 2012. However, the contest has become interesting after SP fielded a newbie, Fateh Bahadur Singh Gill, against him. Gill was arrested by the UP police under stringent charges in October 2021 after he protested outside Mahana’s residence.
Apart from Mahana, five other ministers – Ram Naresh Agnihotri from Bhongaon, Manoharlal Mannu Kori from Mehroni, Lakhan Singh Rajput from Dibiyapur, Neelima Katiyar from Kalyanpur and Ajit Singh Pal from Sikandra – are also in the fray.