It seems certain that the first round of voting for 55 seats in central Uttar Pradesh and a section of the Terai region has gone in favour of the Samajwadi Party. The Bahujan Samaj Party had won 30 seats from this region in the assembly election of 2007, but a careful study of the voting pattern in the villages of the area by the two national political parties suggests that the SP will get 28 plus seats from the region, thus upsetting the BSP stronghold.
It is, now, more or less certain that in the ongoing election the SP is emerging as the main challenger to Mayawati's power in Lucknow. The combination of an experienced Mulayam Singh Yadav and his young, untested son Akhilesh Yadav is working.
Much before the elections, the Uttar Pradesh battleground was being talked about as a four-cornered contest among the BSP, SP, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party but now the scene is getting crystallised.
The mood of the local voters, caste, quality and strength of candidates, and the party's overall image are moving towards a two-way contest. Although on a pan-UP platform the contest has four political parties, inside each constituency the weaker candidates are getting marginalised fast and the contest is getting sharper between the two stronger candidates.
The Congress's new attempt to appeal to Kurmi and Muslim voters in the area doesn't seem to have worked as per plan in the first phase, says a source in the Congress.
The BSP, BJP and the Congress's combined seats strength would not cross 25 seats, claim leaders of the BJP and Congress in off-the-record conversations.
In the battle for 55 seats the Congress and BSP's stakes were higher because Mayawati was fighting to retain her 30 seats and the Congress had won impressively from here in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. So, they had to win in the 29 segments here from where it got support from Kurmi and Muslim voters in 2009. But it seems the win of 2009 in this region may not be sustained by the Congress in 2012, in spite of Rahul Gandhi's total support to Beni Prasad Verma, the Kurmi leader and member of Parliament from Gonda, and the party's all-out effort to win over Muslim voters.
In new constituencies formed after delimitation, the ground combination of castes has changed. Congress leaders seem to have been unable to attract the Muslim vote, says the survey done after the polling. In these 55 seats the BSP had fielded 14 Muslim candidates, the SP 10 and the Congress nine.
This correspondent talked to many political leaders belonging to all the main contenders to power. They have conceded that reports emanating from the ground suggest that people were in a mood to "vote against the BSP" and in a majority of the constituencies in the first phase of election, SP candidates have been found to be the better alternative among parties who are challenging Mayawati's rule.
In this nerve-breaking election, conventionally speaking, there were two parallel contests.
One was for the number one slot, which was considered to be between the SP and the BSP. As the polling has started it seems that the SP will defeat the BSP for the number one slot.
Another contest was for the number three and four slots, between the BJP and the Congress. There remains no doubt that Rahul Gandhi is on overdrive. He is putting his prestige at stake. In Amethi and Rae Bareli, Priyanka Vadra is playing her family card and there seems to be an all-out effort to evoke emotion among voters to save the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. It was evident from the way she brought her children onstage on Thursday.
Political leaders and experts claim that after Saturday's phase two polling, one will be in a position to judge if Rahul Gandhi's hard work will translate into votes. The BJP is disappointed by the first phase of elections. The second phase of election, in 57 seats spread over nine districts, will see Bhojpuri-speaking areas going to the polls. It includes Gorakhpur, Azamgarh, Deoria, Maharajganj and Ghazipur. It is one of the most backward areas of India. BJP's member of Parliament Yogi Adityanath is the party's hope in this area.
Poverty, unemployment and human miseries of the villages in these nine districts are the unsung stories of India.
Prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi had set up special commissions to study these acutely backward areas, but Time has moved on without any change coming to this area.
In the last elections the BSP had won 30 seats and, as reportage in the local media suggests, the SP is posing a strong challenge to the BSP here, too.