UP poll battle: Fourth round may be decisive; BJP sweats to retain Awadh, Terai and Bundelkhand

If Samajwadi Party, Congress and BSP make a heavy dent in BJP’s vote share, which seems inevitable, fourth phase of Uttar Pradesh polls may spell end of its rule in the state

Visuals from a polling booth
Visuals from a polling booth

Saiyed Zegham Murtaza

The poll battle in Uttar Pradesh has now entered a decisive phase. Though the balance of the first three phases seemed tilted in favour of the Samajwadi Party-led alliance, the fourth phase seems evenly balanced. UP will see a multi-cornered fight for the first time in these elections as the first three phases were largely bipolar.

On February 23, people in 9 districts from various regions will vote for candidates in 60 assembly seats. This phase includes Lakhimpur Kheri from Terai region; Pilibhit from Rohilkhand; Hardoi, Sitapur, Lucknow, Unnao, and Rae Bareli from Awadh; and Fatehpur and Banda from the Bundelkhand region. A total of 624 candidates are in fray for the sixty seats.

During the first three rounds of polling on 172 seats out of the total 403, it seemed that the contest was mostly bipolar.

Of the sixty seats going to polls on February 23, BJP holds 51 seats at present. Though the ruling party is claiming that it will retain all of them, it is not an easy battle this time.

In Lakhimpur Kheri, Ashish Mishra and his father Ajay Mishra, Union Home Minister for State, remain polarizing figures. In this region, BJP is facing the ire of farmers, particularly the dominant Sikh community, not only in Lakhimpur, but also in nearby districts of Pilibhit, Sitapur and Hardoi.

The list of prominent candidates on these 60 seats includes Brijesh Pathak, law minister in UP government from Lucknow Cantt; Ashutosh Tandon, another minister and son of late Lalji Tandon from Lucknow east; Rajeshwar Singh, former ED official and Samajwadi Party leader Abhishek Mishra from Sarojini Nagar in Lucknow.

It also includes Nitin Agrawal, deputy speaker in UP assembly and son of Naresh Agrawal; Aditi Singh, former Congress MLA and now BJP candidate from Rae Bareli Sadar; Sadaf Jafar, an anti-CAA activist and Congress candidate from Lucknow Central; Asha Singh, mother of Unnao rape victim and Congress candidate from Unnao Sadar, and Abdul Mannan, a BSP leader and former minister from Sandila in Hardoi.

In 2017, BJP had won 51 seats, while its ally Apna Dal (S) secured one seat. Samajwadi Party candidates won four, Congress three and Bahujan Samaj Party one.

Later, all these MLAs of Congress and the only BSP legislature joined BJP. It means that the BJP has to defend a total of 56 candidates in this round. If the party wants to remain in contention for power, it must win all these 56 seats.

If Samajwadi Party, Congress and BSP make a heavy dent in BJP’s vote share, which seems inevitable, this round will wrap the power struggle in the state.

For BJP, mobilization of its cadre and generating enthusiasm among its supporters remain a biggest challenge. The first three phases saw a dull return at the urban polling booths. Most of the hotly-contested seats of fourth round are in urban category and this is a big issue for the ruling party.

BJP is confident that it can cover up the heavy losses of the first two rounds of poll in Awadh and Bundelkhand regions. Considering the 2017 elections it doesn’t seems impossible, but the way opposition parties have managed to rally the people around basic issues like inflation, fuel prices, unemployment, stray animals and mismanagement of pandemic situation, it doesn’t seem possible this time for it to win 56 out of sixty despite a big war chest and playing of the communal card.

Samajwadi Party is contesting on 58 seats while its ally SBSP of Om Prakash Rajbhar has fielded candidates on remaining two.

BJP has fielded candidates from 57 seats and its ally Apna Dal (S) is in contention for the remaining three.

Both the BSP and the Congress have fielded candidates on 60 seats each.

While the BJP is facing a tough battle for six seats of Rae Bareli from the Congress, in Hardoi, Banda, Fatehpur and Unnao BSP seems to have revived its poll machinery.

While some seats like Sandila, Hardoi, Pilibhit, Bindki, Banda, Tindwari, Lucknow Central, Rae Bareli Sadar, Sareni, Bachhrawan, Harchandpur, Safipur, Unnao and Mohan can see a multi-cornered fight, it will be a bipolar contest on most the seats between the ruling BJP and the Samajwadi Party alliance.

The BJP will look to cover its deficit in the first three polls even as Samajwadi Party will try to build up more momentum from here on to claim the seat of power in UP.

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