On the eve of the final phase of the Uttar Pradesh assembly election, Rediff.com's Aslam Hunani reviews the political landscape in the epicentre and beyond.
The campaigning for the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections peaked in Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Lok Sabha constituency and one of the seven districts that will go to the polls March 8 in the seventh, and final, phase of the 2017 elections.
The elections here are being looked on as a mini-referendum for the Modi government at the Centre.
The Bharatiya Janata Party's top leaders and ministers, including Modi, made Varanasi their base camp with the PM camping in Varanasi for three days and holding road shows across the length and breadth of the district.
The other star BJP campaigners were party president Amit Shah and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh (will he be the chief minister if his party wins the UP election?) with Union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad, Kalraj Mishra, Uma Bharti, Ananth Kumar, Smriti Irani, Narendra Singh Tomar and Piyush Goyal chipping in.
The BJP even moved its war room to Varanasi. Party officials said this was also the first time that they set up a new media centre in Varanasi, with at least one Union minister present to address the media every day.
The Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance and the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party also left no stone unturned.
The SP-Congress combine's campaign strategist Prashant Kishor crafted a Varanasi-specific strategy with initiatives like 'Dard-e-Banaras,' which highlighted the disillusionment among voters.
In addition, Kishor's team launched a two-pronged campaign offensive -- going door-to-door and reaching out via social media.
Mayawati kept up a gruelling pace of three to four election rallies a day even as her party leaders reached out to the grassroots.
At stake in this phase is the future of 535 candidates, contesting 40 seats, in the districts of Bhadohi, Chandauli, Ghazipur, Jaunpur, Mirzapur, Sonbhadra and Varanasi.
In the 2007 assembly election, Mayawati emerged victorious in Eastern Uttar Pradesh riding on the Dalit-Brahmin-Muslim combine; the BSP won 206 seats in the 403-seat state assembly that election.
The 2012 assembly polls saw Purvanchal swing to the SP; the party also emerged with the largest majority in that election.
In the 2014 general election, the BJP, with its ally, the Apna Dal, won all the Lok Sabha seats from this region.
Holding onto this region is a battle of pride for both the SP and the BJP.
This phase too has seen a poor percentage of women candidates. It stands at an almost negligible 47 out of 535.
On the education front, 245 candidates have declared an educational qualification of graduate or above; 229 candidates have declared an educational qualification between Class 5 and 12.
Parties also continue to pitch candidates with criminal records. As per the data available with the Association for Democratic Reforms, 115 or 22 percent of the candidates have declared criminal cases against themselves.
95 or 18 per cent of the candidates have declared serious criminal cases against themselves, including cases related to murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, crimes against women, etc.
The BJP and BSP have once again fielded the most number of candidates with criminal cases.
A total of 132 crorepati candidates are in the fray in this phase. Leading the list are the BSP's Bholanath from Mariyahu (Jaunpur) with declared assets worth of ₹51.02 crore, the BJP's Shuchimita Maurya Majhwan (Mirzapur) with declared assets worth ₹46.85 crore, and the SP's Subhash Pasi Saidpur (Ghazipur) with declared assets worth ₹40.82 crore.
The polling on March 8 will draw the curtain on not just the elections in Uttar Pradesh, but also the five state assembly elections.
Counting for all five states will take place on March 11.
The road so far in UP...
- UP Phase 1: The battle for Western UP
- UP Phase 2: A test of minority outreach
- UP Phase 3: Akhilesh Yadav's litmus test
- UP Phase 4: In the underbelly
- UP Phase 5: From Ayodhya to Amethi
- UP Phase 6: The war zone that is Eastern UP
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