Rain and cold fail to keep Uttar Pradesh voters away
55 Assembly seats in 10 districts witnessed record voter turnout of over 62 percent in first phase of polling for the Assembly elections on Monday
Virendra Nath Bhatt
Braving heavy rain and biting cold, 55 Assembly seats in 10 districts witnessed record voter turnout of over 62 percent in first phase of polling for the UP assembly on Monday 8 February. Only two districts Balrampur and Siddhartha Nagar recorded less then 60 percent polling while in remaining eight districts the polling was more than 62 percent.
“By 5 pm the voter turnout in 10 districts was around 62 percent which is likely to go up to 65 percent after the final figures are computed by the late hours of Wednesday’’, said state’s Chief Electoral Officer Umesh Sinha adding “the turnout of the women was also large in almost all the constituencies which went to the polls today.”
According to political observers the principal opposition Samajwadi party is set to reap the maximum benefit of the record over 14 percent increase in voter turnout. In last Assembly elections held in 2007, voter turnout in first phase of election was only 46 percent.
Earlier in the day, heavy rain in most of the Assembly seats, for which polling was being held, played spoilsport. After a slow start, polling picked up rapidly with almost 42 percent of the over 1.70 crore electorate exercising their franchise till late afternoon. As the weather cleared, people started coming out in large numbers to cast their vote. Umesh Sinha said by 3pm around 42 percent polling was recorded in 55 Assembly seats spread over 10 districts. He said the last few hours of polling were crucial and with weather improving, people came in large numbers to cast their vote.
In Faizabad, Ambedkarnagar, Gonda, Balrampur, Bahriach, Shravasti, Barabanki, Basti, Siddarth Nagar and Sitapur, despite rain and water logging on the streets voters turned out in large numbers. The polling was absolutely peaceful with no untoward incident reported from any of the districts.
Though the major political parties, Congress, Samajwadi Party and the BJP, claimed that they were the main beneficiary of the high voter turnout political observers feel that the winds of change are blowing in UP. “If records of over 60 percent turnout in the first phase of elections is any indication, then alarm bells are ringing for the incumbent Chief Minister and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) national president Mayawati’’, said Professor Ashutosh Mishra, who teaches political science at of Lucknow university. In the 2007 Assembly polls, the BSP had won 30 seats, Samajwadi party 18, BJP 4 and the Congress had won three seats in the first phase of the Assembly polls.
The polling on Wednesday was peaceful with no untoward incident reported from any of the 10 districts. By evening the estimated turnout of the voters in 55 assembly seats was close to 52 percent. In Barabanki and Ambedkar Nagar districts the turnout was 55 percent by evening and the Kursi Assembly constituency in Barabanki witnessed a record turnout of over 65 percent.
Amidst complaints of electronic voting machines (EVM) malfunctions, close to 60 percent polling was recorded in Bahraich district. In Sitapur, where people had boycotted polls in Gularia village in Misrikh Assembly seat to protest lack of development, officials registered over 55 percent voting by 4 pm.
Gonda also recorded a heavy turnout of the voters, close to 42 percent polling till 3 pm, but nearly 800 voters boycotted the poll process at booth number 34 in Mehnaun Assembly seat to protest the shifting of the polling station three kilometers away from their village. Polling also picked up in Faizabad where also 60 percent electorate exercised their franchise.
In the temple town of Ayodhya in Faizabad district BJP candidate Lallu Singh, who has won from this seat for five consecutive terms since 1991, is facing a challenge from Tejnaryan Pande of the Samajwadi Party. The head priest at the makeshift Ram Janmabhoomi temple, Acharya Satyendra Das said, “The people of Ayodhya have moved on, they have decided to vote on the issue of development.”
Khan Ahmed Khan a member of the Babri Masjid action committee said “Both Hindus and Muslims have suffered a lot due to the politics of temple and mosque. In 1991 the BJP had won all the five seats in Faizabad district, in the 1993 Assembly Elections its tally was reduced to two seats and later to one seat—Ayodhya.”
Polling is being held amidst tight security arrangements and more than 1.70 crore electorate—952.87 lakh men and 70.44 lakh women—are expected to seal the fate of 862 candidates in Uttar Pradesh. The candidates include 796 men, 65 women and one eunuch. Maximum Barabanki seat has 26 candidates in the fray, whereas Mehmoodabad has only eight candidates.
The votes cast on Wednesday 8 February will decide the future of Cabinet Minister Lalji Verma, Minister of State Sangram Singh Verma, 31 sitting MLAs, 15 former ministers and relatives of several MPs including Rakesh Verma, the son of the Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma. Polls in Uttar Pradesh will be conducted between 8 February and 3 March. Counting will take place on March 6.
Verma, Punia lock horns over their position in the Congress
The first day of the first phase of polling was not without drama as Cong leaders fought among themselves
Even as Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi sweats it out in Uttar Pradesh to revive the lost fortunes of the party in the state, there has been no let up in the factional war among its top local leaders.
On Wednesday, Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma, considered the OBC mascot of the Congress, and PL Punia, the Dalit face drafted by the party to take on the UP Chief Minister Mayawati, clashed. Verma called Punia an “outsider” in UP politics.
Barabanki is the home town of Verma, who is an MP from the neighboring Gonda Lok Sabha seat, while Punia, a retired IAS officer of UP cadre, is an MP from Barabanki and also the chairman of the National SC Commission thus enjoying the status of a Union Cabinet Minister. The Congress, however, sought to downplay the clash of its top UP leaders on the day of polling for the first phase of UP assembly elections.
“Punia is a native of Punjab and settled here and he has no stakes in the state and he has no say in the UP politics,” said Verma to the media. He made this comment in Barabanki after casting his vote in Dariyabad seat from where his son Rakesh Verma is contesting.
Verma’s reaction comes after Punia told reporters that the party has not projected any particular leader in the UP polls. “Verma has not been projected as the sole leader during the UP polls and a collective leadership has emerged in the state,” was what Punia said when asked if Verma has been made the leader of the party in the ongoing elections. “I have my household in UP and I also have a residence in Barabanki,” added Punia.
“Punia has come from Punjab... all the people here are our people and we are winning all the six seats in Barabanki district,” Verma told newspersons here to questions on dissent in the party, particularly in Barabanki.
The party general secretary Digvijay Singh, however, sought to downplay the running battle between the two leaders of the party saying that there was no factionalism in the party and both Verma and Punia are the prominent leaders and MPs of the party.
“What Beni said is that Punia is from Punjab and after his selection in the IAS he has spent his life in UP...everyone has come from somewhere," he said citing his personal example that his forefathers had come from Rajasthan and settled in Madhya Pradesh.
“Punia contested the 2007 assembly elections from Barabanki and in 2009 won the Lok Sabha seat by a margin of over one and a half lakh votes...media persons are trying to cause dissent,” Singh said.
Punia, however, said that Verma is a senior leader and everyone respects him. “There is no question of being angry... such things are laughable," he said. Minister of State for parliamentary affairs Rajiv Shukla said that the comment should not be given importance. “Some differences do take place.... it keeps happening in BJP all the time,” Shukla said.
According to Congress sources, a majority of tickets in areas where polling was held Wednesday have been distributed on Verma's advice although Punia’s advice was ignored.
Both leaders have been locked in feud since Punia was elevated as the chairman of the National SC commission in October 2010. Much to the chagrin of Verma, Punia was given the rank of a Union Cabinet Minister when he himself was the Union Minister of State with independent charge of the Steel Ministry. It was later that he was elevated to the rank of a Cabinet Minister.
Virendra Nath Bhatt is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka. firstname.lastname@example.org
Editing by Karuna John