Voting for the seventh and final phase of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election covering 54 seats, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi's parliamentary constituency Varanasi, will be held on Monday to decide the fate of 613 candidates. Polling will start at 7 am and continue till 6 pm in Azamgarh, Mau, Jaunpur, Ghazipur, Chandauli, Varanasi, Mirzapur, Bhadohi and Sonbhadra districts.
The campaigning for the final phase ended on Saturday with the ruling BJP and its rival parties attacking each other on a range of issues, from the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, law and order, economic and security situation to the farmers' stir. Polling on these 54 seats will also mark the end of the almost month-long voting process in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh that began on February 10 after the announcement of the election in mid-January.
The counting of votes will be undertaken on March 10. Of the 54 seats in this phase, 11 are reserved for the Scheduled Castes and two for the Scheduled Tribes. There are 2.06 crore eligible voters. The final round of polling will also be a test of the alliances carved out by both the BJP and the Samajwadi Party (SP) with small caste-based parties. BJP's allies Apna Dal (Sonelal) and Nishad Party and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav's new friends Apna Dal (K), Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) of Om Prakash Rajbhar and others have been trying to rally their supporters.
Once considered a stronghold of the SP, the region saw the BJP making inroads in 2017 by winning 29 seats, along with its allies Apna Dal (four) and SBSP (three). The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) got six seats and the SP 11. For the SP, its patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav made a rare appearance in Jaunpur to drum up support for Lucky Yadav, the son of his long-time associate late Parasnath Yadav who is in the fray from the Malhani seat. Mulayam Singh Yadav had earlier campaigned for his son Akhilesh Yadav in the Karhal Assembly segment in Mainpuri.
Besides state Tourism Minister Neelkanth Tiwari (Varanasi South), other ministers in the fray in the last leg are Anil Rajbhar (Shivpur-Varanasi), Ravindra Jaiswal (Varanasi North), Girish Yadav (Jaunpur) and Ramashankar Singh Patel (Marihan-Mirzapur). Dara Singh Chauhan, who had resigned from the Yogi Adityanath cabinet and joined the SP, is contesting from Ghosi in Mau. SBSP president Om Prakash Rajbhar (Zahoorabad), Dhananjay Singh (Malhani-Jaunpur) as the JD(U) candidate and Abbas Ansari, the son of mafia-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari, from Mau Sadar seat are contesting in this phase.
The campaigning in the last phase reached its crescendo with Prime Minister Narendra Modi leading the BJP's poll blitzkrieg in Varanasi and its adjoining districts. Besides addressing election rallies, he also held a roadshow for the three Assembly constituencies of Cantonment, Varanasi North and Varanasi South. This phase also saw West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee descending on the pilgrim city to hold a joint rally with Akhilesh Yadav and his RLD ally Jayant Chaudhary. Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had been camping in Varanasi for about four days and she, along with her brother Rahul Gandhi, addressed election meetings, whereas BSP supremo Mayawati also campaigned in the district and neighbouring areas.
Seeking to override anti-incumbency, the ruling party raised issues like forced migration and law-and-order problems during the previous SP government while Akhilesh Yadav targeted the BJP government on the issues of inflation, unemployment, stray cattle and the farmers' agitation against three agriculture laws of the Centre. The mowing down of four farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri was also highlighted by all the opposition parties as Union minister Ajay Mishra's son Ashish Mishra is an accused in the case.
With PTI Inputs