The politicians have walked the walk and talked the talk. Now it is up to the discerning population of western Uttar Pradesh, which goes to the hustings in the first phase of the mother of all elections on Thursday, to make its choices.
The first of the seven phases of polling for the UP Assembly will be held in what promises to be a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP’s policies ahead of the most crucial 2024 national elections in 11 districts covering 58 constituencies. These seats cover the Jat-dominated belt — more known as Harit Pradesh.
Shamli, Hapur, Gautam Buddh Nagar (Noida), Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Baghpat, Ghaziabad, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Mathura and Agra will witness polling on Thursday. Electorally, the northern state has the highest 403 seats in the State Assembly.
The ruling BJP party has fielded 17 candidates from the Jat community. In comparison, the Rashtriya Lok Dal has fielded 12 Jat candidates and the Samajwadi Party six.
The region goes to the polls in the backdrop of the anger among the larger farmer community over the now withdrawn farm laws and issues like the payment of sugarcane.
Thursday’s polling will decide the fate of nine ministers in the Yogi Adityanath government. The ministers whose electoral fate will be decided are Suresh Rana, Atul Garg, Shrikant Sharma, Sandeep Singh, Anil Sharma, Kapil Dev Agarwal, Dinesh Khatik, Dr G S Dharmesh and Chaudhary Laxmi Narain.
The electioneering for the first phase was confined to virtual media. The Election Commission has banned all roadshows and physical rallies in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis escalated by the Omicron variant.
Addressing his last virtual public meeting before campaigning drew close, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the “double-engine government” for fast-paced development, slamming the Samajwadi Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) alliance. Meanwhile, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, holding a door-to-door campaign in Mathura, tried to spotlight the alleged “exodus” of Hindus from Kairana before 2017.
The BJP, while releasing the manifesto, assured free electricity for irrigation, a job for every household and free travel for women over 60. It also promised a minimum 10-year sentence in cases of what it describes as “love jihad”.
On the other hand, Samajwadi Party (SP) president Akhilesh Yadav, who is giving the most challenging contest to the BJP, claimed that people had made up their mind to vote out the BJP from power. The SP-RLD alliance has from the beginning focused its electioneering on farmers’ issues and attacked Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath over poll promises.
Simultaneously, West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee reached Uttar Pradesh to throw her weight behind Akhilesh and said, like West Bengal Assembly polls, UP will see a one-on-one fight between the BJP and the Samajwadi Party with Akhilesh emerging victorious.
Much to the chagrin of the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress alike, at the joint press conference, Banerjee tweaked the “khela hobe’ campaign anthem of her party for last year’s Assembly polls to ‘Khela Hoga’ (the game is on) and stressed that if “Bengal can do it (defeat BJP), so can Uttar Pradesh”.
After defeating the BJP in the high-octane assembly polls in her state last year, Banerjee said, “If Yogi (Adityanath) Ji comes to power, he will eat you up politically as well as economically.”
“He does not know anything, and hence he is going (away). Let him go. A person who wants to go should be allowed to go.”
The Congress, under the leadership of its general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, has also generated interest, as seen in roadshows and door-to-door campaigning by her.
Meanwhile, BSP chief Mayawati, who started campaigning late, reminded people of her government’s track record on law and order in the past. Although the main fight for UP is believed to be between the BJP and the SP-RLD, the BSP influences some seats in the first phase.
Last time, the BJP bagged 53 of the 58 seats, while the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party got two seats each. One seat went to the Rashtriya Lok Dal.
First Phase Polling of UP Assembly Election 2022 in 11 Districts:
Gautam Buddh Nagar