The states of Uttar Pradesh and Manipur are going to polls on Wednesday. Stage is set for the grand finale to the staggered UP Assembly polls as the seventh and the last phase covering 40 seats will be held on Wednesday, with all eyes on the Prime Minister’s Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi.
In Manipur, redoubtable rights activist Irom Sharmila will take on Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh in the second and last phase of polling in Manipur on Wednesday in 22 Assembly constituencies.
Seventh and final phase of UP polls
Three Naxal-affected districts of Sonbhadra, Mirzapur and Chandauli, along with the five Assembly segments under Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency, will be in prime focus.
Ghazipur, Jaunpur and Bhadoi are the other districts going to polls in this phase. Tight security has been put in place in these seven districts.
Counting of votes polled in all the seven phases of the Assembly polls will be taken up on March 11. Polling will be held between 7 AM to 5 PM in all constituencies, except the Naxal-hit Duddhi, Robertsganj and Chakia seats, where polling will end at 4 PM.
A total of 1.41 crore voters, including 64.76 lakh women, are eligible to exercise their franchise in 14,458 polling booths.
The BJP is contesting 32 seats and its allies the Apana Dal and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party are contesting on 4 seats each. The BSP has fielded its nominees for all seats. While the SP is contesting 31 seats, its ally the Congress is in race for the remaining seats.
In the 2012 state Assembly polls, out of these 40 seats, 23 went to the SP, 5 to the BSP, 4 to the BJP, 3 to the Congress and 5 to others.
In all, 535 candidates, including 40 (BSP), 32 (BJP), 31 (SP), 9 (Cong), 21 (RLD) and 5 (NCP) are in the fray.
While the maximum number of candidates (24) are from the Varanasi Cantt seat, the minimum number of candidates (six) are contesting from Kerakat (SC).
For the last phase, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent three days in Varanasi, where he visited temples, held a roadshow and attended a number of public events. He also addressed several rallies in the region to give a final push to the BJP campaign.
Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi also matched it with their own campaign blitz in the region.
Joined by Akhilesh’s wife Dimple, the two leaders held a roadshow, hours after Modi arrived in the city and paid obeisance at the Kashi Vishwanath and Kal Bhairav temples with much fanfare.
BSP chief Mayawati, who is seeking a fifth term as Chief Minister, also addressed a rally in Rohaniya, around 20 km from Varanasi on the same day.
Prominent candidates who are in fray include former Cabinet minister Om Prakash, Parasnath Yadav, Ajay Rai, former MP Dhananjay Singh, Sigbatullah Ansari brother of Mukhtar Ansari and Seema Singh wife of jailed mafia Munna Bajrangi.
Polling in Alapur seat will be held on Thursday. Voting in this constituency was postponed following the demise of a candidate belonging to a recognised political party.
The Election Commission has also postponed telecast of exit polls till 5:30 PM on Thursday, keeping this polling in mind.
Second and final phase of Manipur polls
The first phase of the Assembly polls, covering 38 seats, registered an impressive voter turnout and all eyes are now trained on the Thoubal constituency where Sharmila is pitted against the chief minister.
The 22 constituencies are spread across the valley districts of Thoubal and the hill districts of Ukhrul, Chandel, Tamenglong and Senapati. A total of 98 candidates are contesting in these constituencies.
The voting will start at 7 AM at 1,151 polling stations amid tight security.
The Election Commission has made elaborate security arrangement by deploying 280 companies of central forces for a free and fair conduct of the elections.
The state has a 19,02,562-strong electorate comprising of 9,28,573 male and 9,73,989 female voters. There are around 45,642 new voters this time.
The second phase will seal the fate of almost all the big names in the state’s politics such as Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, Deputy Chief Minister M Gaikhangam, rights activist-turned politician Irom Chanu Sharmila and others.
The elections in Manipur this time are billed as a crucial test for the 15-year-old Congress regime which is facing a stiff challenge from the BJP.
In the first phase, all political parties in their campaigns focused on the continuing economic blockade by the United Naga Council and the state government’s inability to lift it.
The other important issues exercising the minds of voters are the alleged lack of development, massive corruption, misappropriation of funds and worsening law and order situation in the state.
The BJP leaders criticised the ruling Congress for its alleged failure to solve the over three-month-long economic blockade paralysing the two national highways of the land-locked state.
They flagged the state government’s alleged failure to provide basic amenities to the people of the state, particularly the supply of potable water while the Congress maintained that during its 15-year rule it had implemented key development projects and improved the power supply.
All eyes are on Sharmila who broke her 16-year fast last year and floated a party of her own—the ‘Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance’ to fight the Assembly elections in her quest to get the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act—AFSPA repealed.