UP ELECTION WEBLOG
Fifty-six Assembly constituencies vote in the fourth phase
A high voter turnout in urban areas, whereas rural areas indicate polarisation on caste lines
Virendra Nath Bhatt
From the bastion of the Congress in Amethi and Rae Bareli to the stronghold of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Lucknow, it is the Samajwadi Party (SP) which seems to have an advantage in most of the 56 Assembly seats which went to the polls on Sunday 19 February. There was a high voter turnout in urban areas while in the rural areas there was a clear polarisation on caste lines. This, say experts, may have led to a tough contest between SP and BSP.
In Lucknow, along with the SP, the Congress also posed tough challenge for the BJP, which is struggling to protect the legacy of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who won this Lok Sabha seat for five consecutive terms from 1991 to 2004. For the first time voters, the choice was either the Congress or the BJP. However, this cannot be taken as a trend since the situation changed in the rural areas.
In Lucknow, Rae Bareli and few other districts the voting pattern of the minority community was reminiscent of the 1993 Assembly elections held in the wake of the December 6, 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid. Then there was an intense communal polarisation between the BJP and the SP-BSP coalition and Muslims had voted for the latter. However, this time despite no communal polarisation Muslims turned out in large numbers, seen as a welcome sign by the SP.
Meanwhile, the SP state president Akhilesh Yadav said the voter’s response in the fourth phase of the elections was as expected by the party. “The electorate sensing a hung Assembly seems to have decided to vote for the Samajwadi Party. Enabling us to form the government on our own “, he said, adding, “we are confident of winning at least 140, out of the total 226 where the polling has been completed so far.”
The tough challenge posed by the SP in almost all the 10 seats in Rae Bareli and Amethi has unnerved the Congress’ strategists. There a triangular contest in Rae Bareli city seat, held by Akhilesh Singh, who this time is a candidate of the Peace Party. In Bachrawan, Harchandpur, Sareni and Unchahar, Assembly seats of in Rae Bareli district, the Congress seems to be struggling to save its turf. Interestingly, the Congress has not fielded a single candidate from the Brahmin community in the district while the Samajwadi Party has fielded a Brahmin from Unchahar and hopes to benefit.
Amethi may also not be a cakewalk for the Congress; it is in close contest with the SP in the five Assembly segments falling under the Amethi Lok Sabha seat. The hype in the Congress camp is now being replaced by cautious optimism. After the four phases of UP Assembly polls covering 226 out of 403 seats, Congress leaders are now guarded in their assessment of the outcome. However, the party’s chief spokesman in the state, Ram Kumar Bhargav, claimed that the Congress will win all 10 Assembly seats in Rae Bareli and CSM Nagar district covering the five Assembly segments under Amethi Lok Sabha constituency of Rahul Gandhi.
In the absence of the party cadre at the grassroot level and rivals like Mayawati of BSP, and Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav of the SP, the Congress has pinned all its hopes on the marathon meetings addressed by Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi in Rae Bareli, Amethi and Sultanpur districts.
In UP Assembly elections are seeing a four cornered contest in almost all the seats as delimitation of as many as 146 constituencies has changed the caste and religious profile of the areas. There are close to 1.40 crore new voters who are closely watching the political changes such as Akhilesh Yadav taking command of the SP’s campaign, dropping of over 100 sitting MLAs by the BSP and the impact of the controversy over the Muslim reservations. Voters have also taken note of the conflicting statements of the senior Congress leaders like Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh on the Batala house encounter in Delhi, on UP’s Muslim electorate.
Meanwhile, the Chief electoral officer of UP, Umesh Sinha said here on Sunday the voter’s turnout was over 58 percent. “The polling was absolutely peaceful and there was no untoward incident barring the minor problems of malfunctioning electronic voter machines,’’ he said.
Virendra Nath Bhatt is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
Editing by Karuna John