The high-octane campaign for the seventh and final phase of the Uttar Pradesh assembly election covering 54 assembly seats, including in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's parliamentary constituency Varanasi, ended on Saturday, with the BJP and its rival parties attacking each other on a range of issues from Covid-19 handling, law and order, economic and security situation to farmers' stir.
With this, the curtain came down on rumbustious electioneering over the last two months when assembly polls were also held in four other states - Goa, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Manipur.
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 three assembly constituencies of Cantt, Varanasi North and Varanasi South.
This phase also saw Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee descending on the pilgrim city to hold a joint rally with SP president 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 Samajwadi Party government. The BJP leaders dubbed its rivals as ''dynasts'' and its star campaigners warned that the mafia elements, put in jail by the Yogi Adityanath government, will be out if the SP forms its government.
Besides highlighting the achievements of the 'double engine' governments, BJP has also been reminding the free ration distribution among the poor with Prime Minister Narendra Modi spicing up the campaign by mixing a salt allegory in his speech, to deftly play up salt's co-relation with loyalty.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav has been targeting the BJP government on inflation, unemployment, stray cattle menace and farmers' agitation against the three agri laws, his speeches peppered with potshots at Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
The mowing down of four farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri has also been highlighted by all the opposition parties as Union minister Ajay Mishra's son Ashish Mishra is an accused in the case.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra wooed voters with the 'ladki hoon,lad sakti hoon' campaign, on issues related to women and their security and questioned the caste and religion-based politics rampant during the past three decades.
While campaigning on 51 of the 54 seats going to polls in the last phase ended at 6 PM, on the three Naxal-hit seats of Chakiya, Robertsganj and Duddhi, it concluded at 4 PM.
Polling on these 54 seats spread across nine districts on March 7 will also mark the end of the almost month-long voting process in the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh that had begun on February 10 after the announcement of elections in mid-January.
A ban on public rallies by the Election Commission due to rising Covid-19 cases affected the campaigning initially but as the curbs were gradually lifted in February, the usual buzz of electioneering was visible.
The counting of votes will be undertaken on March 10.
According to the Chief Electoral Officer Ajay Kumar Shukla all necessary arrangements have been made for free, fair and transparent polling in the seventh phase in Azamgarh, Mau, Jaunpur, Ghazipur, Chandauli, Varanasi, Mirzapur, Bhadohi and Sonbhadra districts.
A total of 613 candidates will be trying their luck in this phase on the 54 seats which include 11 reserved for the Scheduled Castes and two for the Scheduled Tribes by an electorate consisting around 2.06 crores.
This final round will also be a test of the alliances carved by both the BJP and Samajwadi Party with small caste-based parties.
BJP's allies Apna Dal (Sonelal) and Nishad Party and Akhilesh Yadav's new friends Apna Dal (K), Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) of Om Prakash Rajbhar and others have been trying to rally their supporters.
Once considered a stronghold of the Samajwadi Party, the region saw BJP making inroads in 2017 by winning 29 seats along with its allies Apna Dal (4) and SBSP (3). The BSP got six seats and Samajwadi Party 11 seats.
For the Samajwadi Party, its patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav made another rare appearance in Jaunpur to drum up support for Lucky Yadav, son of his long-time associate late Parasnath Yadav in the fray from Malhani seat.
Mulayam Singh had earlier campaigned for his son and party president Akhilesh Yadav on Karhal seat in Mainpuri.
Besides UP 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 Samajwadi Party is also in contesting from Ghosi in Mau.
SBSP president Om Prakash Rajbhar (Zahoorabad), Dhananjay Singh (Malhani-Jaunpur) as JD(U) candidate and Abbas Ansari, son of mafia turned politician Mukhtar Ansari, from Mau Sadar seat are contesting in this phase. (With PTI inputs)