High-stakes poll bat­tle for UP kicks off to­day

Par­ties seek early ad­van­tage in 15 cru­cial dis­tricts that go to polls

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Live - - FRONT PAGE - Man­ish Chan­dra Pandey

AGRA/BULANDSHAHR/ALIGARH/ HAPUR: From com­mu­nal po­lar­i­sa­tion to is­sues such as de­vel­op­ment and de­mon­eti­sa­tion will be put to test as 73 of Ut­tar Pradesh’s 403 as­sem­bly seats go to the polls on Satur­day in the first of seven-phase elec­tions.

T he pr i n c i p a l p ro t a g o - nists — from the Sa­ma­jwadi Party-Congress al­liance to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Mayawati’s Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party (BSP) — are hop­ing for a strong per­for­mance in the com­mu­nally-charged west­ern UP re­gion, in­fa­mous for the mur­der­ous ri­ots in 2013, so as to gather enough im­pe­tus for the later phases.

The UP elec­tions are cru­cial for the BJP as they are be­ing viewed as a mini-ref­er­en­dum on Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s ma­jor de­ci­sions like de­mon­eti­sa­tion and the sur­gi­cal strikes across the bor­der in Pak­istan. In­cum­bent chief min­is­ter Akhilesh Ya­dav’s fu­ture is at stake as he eyes re-elec­tion af­ter a bit­ter fam­ily feud. The Congress would hope for a good show­ing as it would help in ar­rest­ing its shrink­ing foot­print across the coun­try.

Viewed by many as a semi­fi­nal to the 2019 gen­eral elec­tions, UP is an acid test for all the prin­ci­pal play­ers.

Elec­tion­eer­ing in west­ern UP has been di­vi­sive and of­ten laced with com­mu­nal over­tones. In the fray are con­tro­ver­sial BJP can­di­dates such as Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana, both ac­cused of in­volve­ment in the 2013 Muzaf­far­na­gar ri­ots.

The BJP had swept the state in 2014 Lok Sabha polls with its al­lies, win­ning 73 of the 80 seats. Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi flew into the re­gion sev­eral times, can­vass­ing for votes promis­ing de­vel­op­ment and a con­tin­u­ing crack­down on cor­rup­tion. On the ground, many party lead­ers are bank­ing on the com­mu­nal di­vide and ag­gres­sively push­ing for po­lar­i­sa­tion of votes. Lead­ers such as Som have been cam­paign­ing on the plank of “Hindu pride”.

With vot­ers ret­i­cent and no clear trends, the elec­tions this time are ex­pected to be close.

“Bahut phansa hua chu­naav hai bhai­jaan” (It is a very com­plex elec­tion, brother),” says Khalid Chaud­hury, a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist.

As the BJP eyes the ma­jor­ity vote, the SP-Congress al­liance is court­ing the mi­nor­ity vote to top up its tra­di­tional vote bank. The al­liance is also bank­ing on Akhilesh Ya­dav and Rahul Gandhi – mar­keted as ‘UP ke ladke’ – to con­nect with the young vot­ers.

BSP’sMayawati­hasal­sospared no ef­forts in stak­ing claim over the Mus­lim vote in ad­di­tion to her tra­di­tional Dalit vote bank. Most of her 100 Mus­lim can­di­dates will com­pete in the first two phases.

SAKIB ALI/HT

Polling booth work­ers be­gan fan­ning out across Ut­tar Pradesh on Fri­day, a day be­fore the first phase of polls.

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