UP by polls: Gorakhpur, Phulpur LS by-elections to take place today (Representative Image)
Campaigning has already come to an end for the high stakes bye-elections to the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats, with the ruling BJP, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress leaving no stone unturned to drum up support for their candidates ahead of polling on Sunday.
On the other hand, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has forged a grand alliance with its decades-old enemy SP and is supporting a common candidate in order to defeat who they see as a common enemy.
Voting will take place on March 11 and counting is scheduled to be held on March 14. The ruling BJP, which won over 300 seats in the 403-member UP assembly last year, expects a walkover.
The by polls were necessitated after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya vacated the Gorakhpur and Phulpur seats respectively, following their election to the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council.
For the BJP, Gorakhpur is significant as it is the bastion of the chief minister, who has represented the seat in the Lok Sabha five times. Prior to Yogi Adityanath, the seat was thrice represented in Parliament by his mentor Yogi Avaidyanath.
Phulpur, once the bastion of the Congress and represented by India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, witnessed a saffron surge in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, when Maurya won the seat.
The saffron party has fielded Kaushalendra Singh Patel from Phulpur and Upendra Dutt Shukla from Gorakhpur against the SP's Pravin Nishad and Nagendra Pratap Singh Patel respectively. Sureetha Kareem is the Congress candidate from Gorakhpur. The party has fielded Manish Mishra from Phulpur.
There are ten candidates in the fray from Gorakhpur, while there are 22 candidates contesting from Phulpur.
"The lotus (BJP's poll symbol) will bloom in both the seats. I have no doubt. The very fact that people are talking mostly about BJP's victory margin is itself an indicator that the party is going to win. You can rest assured that we are going to improve our margin in both the seats," Deputy Chief Minister Maurya told PTI.
Maurya said that as far as the vote-share was concerned, "60 per cent is ours and the rest is for others to share".
Adityanath has termed the bye-elections a rehearsal for the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Speaking at a public meeting in Pipraich, he said, "The bypolls are a rehearsal for the 2019 parliamentary election. Work for the present election and also work for 2019 (Lok Sabha election) and win all 80 seats of the state for Prime Minister Narendra Modi."
According to the Election Commission, there 19.61 lakh voters in Phulpur parliamentary constituency, while there are 19.49 lakh voters in Gorakhpur parliamentary.
The ruling BJP did not only win both the seats in the 2014 general elections but also swept the state Assembly polls last year.
However, this time the party will face a new challenge as the SP contestants have the backing of BSP.
(With inputs from PTI)