Fierce contest in Uttarakhand, Goa on February 14; crucial phase in U.P.

Second phase of polling for 55 seats in Uttar Pradesh

February 13, 2022 06:40 pm | Updated February 14, 2022 08:17 am IST - New Delhi

Polling officials check Electronic Voting Machines in Budaun on February 13, 2022. Photo: PIB via PTI

Polling officials check Electronic Voting Machines in Budaun on February 13, 2022. Photo: PIB via PTI

In high-stakes elections for the BJP, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Goa and Uttarakhand goes to the polls on Monday, along with 55 constituencies in Uttar Pradesh in the second of the seven phases of polling in the State.

Voting is being held for all the 70 Assembly seats in over 13 districts in Uttarakhand with 632 candidates in the fray. The ruling BJP, which won 57 seats in the previous election, is anxious to defend its majority in the State where it faces off directly against the Congress, though this time the AAP has fielded candidates for all the seats.

Battling internal strife

Both the BJP and the Congress have faced internal strife. The BJP has had to change three Chief Ministers in 2021 due to issues with Trivendra Singh Rawat and Lok Sabha member Tirath Singh Rawat before current Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami steadied the boat, by doing away with the Char Dham Act which took more than 80 Hindu shrines under the wing of the government and alienated the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and shrine trustees from the BJP.

Mr. Dhami has also announced, against the background of the hijab row in Karnataka, his intention to appoint a committee for exploring a Uniform Civil Code in the State, if elected to power.

The Congress also saw differences emerge between former Chief Minister Harish Rawat and Congress leader Pritam Singh and some back and forth over ticket and the question of a chief ministerial face that seems to have been kept in abeyance now. Both the chief ministerial hopefuls, Mr. Dhami and Mr. Rawat are from Kumaon. It will be interesting to see who manages to keep the faith of the electorate in Devbhoomi (abode of Gods) as the State is referred to.

A first for BJP

This is the first time that the BJP under Chief Minister Pramod Sawant is contesting all 40 Assembly seats in Goa. While the Congress is its principal challenger, the BJP is also ranged against four other major players, including the AAP and the Trinamool Congress, both of which are seeking to open their accounts in the coastal State, and the Vijai Sardesai-led Goa Forward Party (GFP) and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) — both had been kingmakers in elections past.

Notorious for its fractured mandates, Goa has seen the Congress and the BJP crossing the majority mark only once each in the past five elections — in 1999 and 2012, respectively.

The miniscule size of the Goa’s Assembly constituencies — the smallest, Mormugao, has just 19,000-odd voters and the largest, Vasco Da Gama, over 35,000 — has been the reason for the large-scale defections in the State.

As many as 26 MLAs (65% of the Goa Assembly) have switched parties since the 2017 Assembly election. This time, both the AAP and the Congress have made all their candidates sign anti-defection affidavits ahead of the election.

In a State where 500-odd votes make all the difference, fierce contests are expected in the crucial Panaji seat, where a prestige fight is in the offing between independent candidate Utpal Parrikar (Manohar Parrikar’s son who was denied a ticket by the BJP) and incumbent MLA Atanasio ‘Babush’ Monserrate. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, seeking a third-term from Sanquelim, faces stiff opposition from the Congress’s Dharmesh Saglani.

U.P. second phase

The 55 seats which will vote in the second phase in Uttar Pradesh are mostly located in the Rohilkhand region and comprises areas with a substantial population of Muslims, way above the State average of 19.5%.

This is most relevant in Rampur, where senior SP leader Azam Khan and his son, Abdullah Azam, face the challenge of the erstwhile Nawab family, and Saharanpur, where the SP hopes to make new gains with the inclusion of local Muslim stalwart Imran Masood.The nine districts in this phase are Bijnor, Moradabad, Sambhal, Rampur, Amroha, Budaun, Bareilly, Shahjahanpur and Saharanpur.

Of these 55 seats, the BJP had won 38 in 2017. The SP won 15. The significance of this phase stands out not just for the SP, which hopes to make gains here, but also for the BSP. The Mayawati-led party has fielded a large number of Muslims in the region and it expects the minority vote to combine with the sizeable Dalit vote even though the BSP’s campaign has been low-key and delayed in comparison to the SP and the BJP.

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