SP, Congress go on whirlwind tours on last day of campaigning
Over 92 lakh men and 77 lakh women are expected to exercise their franchise in the first phase as 55 seats in 10 districts go to polls on 8 February
Virendra Nath Bhatt
According to poll-watchers the Samajwadi Party (SP) will lock horns with the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) for supremacy in Uttar Pradesh in the first phase of the Assembly elections where 55 seats in 10 districts will go to polls on 8 February. The districts going to polls are Sitapur, Barabanki, Faizabad, Ambedkar Nagar, Bahriach, Shravasti, Balrampur, Gonda, Siddharth Nagar and Basti.
There is also some interesting pre-poll trivia doing the rounds in the state considered crucial by all the political parties. According to the findings of the non governmental organisation UP Election Watch, out of the total 867 candidates in the fray for the first phase of elections as many as 109 candidates have criminal cases, including those of murder, abduction, robbery and extortion pending against them. Samajwadi Party tops this chart with 28 of its candidates having criminal records, followed by the BSP and BJP who have 24 such candidates each, Congress has 15, Peace Party has 12, JD-U has 5 and RLD has 1.
The first phase of polling was earlier scheduled for 4 February but was postponed by the Election Commission because the Muslim festival Barawafat fell on that day. Interestingly, only 65 of the total number of candidates are women. Over 92 lakh men and 77 lakh women voters are expected to exercise their franchise in the first phase.
Then there are the personal assets of the contestants that generate much chatter. While Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) nominee from Colonelganj seat (Gonda) Ajay Pratap Singh is the richest with assets worth Rs 12.08 crore, Chaudhary Ravindra Pratap of Congress from Shohratgarh (Siddharth Nagar) comes second at Rs 6.56 crore. The BSP’s candidate from Barabanki Sangram Singh is third with assets worth Rs 5.5 crore.
The principal Opposition party, through sustained agitations against the alleged misrule of the Mayawati regime, has made efforts to reinvent itself with a young leadership and emerged as the foremost challenger to the BSP. The SP is expected to do well not only in the 10 districts going to polls in the first phase but entire east UP, experts say.
For the Congress the first phase is crucial as it will decide the fate of the social engineering card of the Congress and its OBC mascot Union Steel minister Beni Prasad Verma, who is the Member of Parliament (MP) from Gonda. Ignoring the opposition from the upper caste lobby within the party, the Congress has, for the first time, given over 100 tickets to candidates from OBC communities.
Verma’s son Rakesh Verma is in the fray from Dariyabad Assembly seat in his home district Barabanki. During the campaign by Rahul Gandhi and later by Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Gonda, Beni Prasad Verma was heckled by the people and not allowed to address the meetings.
On Monday, the last day of the campaign, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, Congress Working Committee members Raj Babbar and Beni Prasad Verma, cricketer and MP from Moradabad Mohammad Azharuddin, and senior UP Congress leader Pramod Tewari almost carpet-bombed the ten districts as they addressed dozens of election meetings.
Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav, who is the state chief of SP, have promised to provide free electricity to farmers if SP comes to power. “We will ensure that the food producers (farmers) get all the facilities they need to give food to the people of the state,” Akhilesh Yadav said in a rally in Faizabad.
The SP, which has entered the fray with a ‘now or never’ attitude is locked in direct contest in all the seven assembly seats in the Gonda district. The situation in neighboring Bahriach district is similar, where it is in a direct contest with the BSP on three seats, with the BJP on three and with the Congress on one seat.
Veteran Congress leader Jagdambika Pal’s son Abhishek Pal is contesting from the Basti Sadar seat of Basti district and is considered a strong candidate.
In Barabanki district the SP is in a comfortable position in three districts. This district, which has a total of six seats, was the bastion of the SP till Beni Prasad Verma was in the party. With his exit, things changed for the party and in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections PL Punia of the Congress was elected from the Barabanki Parliamentary seat.
In the 2007 Assembly polls, SP had bagged five seats out of nine in Sitapur district, while the remaining four were won by BSP. Owing to a strong anti-incumbency sentiment against the BSP, the SP is hopeful of improving its tally this time around.
Virendra Nath Bhatt is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
Editing by Karuna John