Big names battle in penultimate phase of U.P. Assembly polls on March 3

Fate of five Ministers, including CM, to be decided as 57 constituencies in ten Purvanchal districts are set to vote

Updated - September 27, 2023 10:36 am IST

Published - March 02, 2022 09:46 pm IST - Gorakhpur

Voters waiting in queue to cast their vote at a polling booth during the fourth phase of Uttar Pradesh assembly election in Lucknow. File

Voters waiting in queue to cast their vote at a polling booth during the fourth phase of Uttar Pradesh assembly election in Lucknow. File | Photo Credit: SANDEEP SAXENA

The fate of five Ministers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, including Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, will be locked on Friday, as 57 constituencies spread over ten districts of Purvanchal are set to exercise their franchise in the penultimate phase of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.

This phase also spotlights the deep criminal-politician nexus in the region as 37 out of the 57 seats fall under the red alert zone — polling areas where more than three candidates have criminal cases registered against them.

According to a report by Uttar Pradesh Election Watch and the Association for Democratic Rights, which analysed affidavits of 670 out of 676 candidates in the fray in the sixth phase, 182 candidates have declared criminal cases against themselves. The Samajwadi Party’s (SP) candidates top the list, followed by the BJP, the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

In 2017, the BJP had won 46 of the 57 seats in the region, and two were won by its allies, the Apna Dal (Sonelal) and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP). In this election, the SBSP has aligned with the SP and is a crucial cog in the anti-BJP wheel created by Akhilesh Yadav. The SP left 18 seats for the SBSP, spread over three phases.

In fact, the last two phases will decide whether the umbrella coalition of Most Backward Classes (MBC), created by Mr. Yadav just ahead of the polls, has worked or not. Swami Prasad Maurya, a prominent Minister in the BJP government, who switched to the SP in the last minute, is contesting from the Fazilnagar seat in Kushinagar. The contest became even more interesting after Sanghpriya Maurya, daughter and BJP MP from Budaun, turned up to seek votes for her father in a dramatic turn of events.

In 2017, the BSP had won five seats in this phase, out which three had come from Ambedkar Nagar, the party’s bastion. This time, the equation seems to be tough as the party’s seasoned face, Ram Achal Rajbhar, has shifted loyalties to the SP and is contesting from his traditional Akbarpur seat.

This phase will also test the supposed Brahmin anger against the BJP. In Gorakhpur Sadar, the SP has pitched Shubhawati Shukla, wife of late Upendra Dutt Shukla, a prominent BJP leader who passed away in 2020, opposite Mr. Adityanath. Mr. Shukla was a vice president in the BJP’s State unit and considered the Brahmin face of the party in the region. In Pathardeva, the SP has fielded Agriculture Minister Surya Pratap Shahi’s arch rival Brahma Shankar Tripathi, and has tried to create a combination of the Yadav, Muslim and Brahmin communities.

Vinay Shankar Tiwari, son of strongman Hari Shankar Tiwari, will defend his seat in the Chillupar constituency of Gorakhpur. Mr. Tiwari switched from the BSP to the SP in the run up to the polls.

Congress State president Ajay Kumar Lallu, who remained low key during the campaign, is seeking election for the third time in a row from the Tamkuhi Raj constituency in Kushinagar district. Azad Samaj Party chief Chandra Shekhar Azad is also in the fray from Gorakhpur Sadar.

Other prominent faces in the fray include Basic Education Minister Satish Chandra Dwivedi and Health Minister Jai Pratap Singh from Itwa and Bansi seats, respectively, in Siddharth Nagar. Both held Ministries that remained under the scanner during the BJP’s rule. Mr. Adityanath’s media adviser Shalabh Mani Tripathi is contesting from Deoria.

Meanwhile, a high pitched campaign is on for the seventh phase. Addressing a rally in Sonbhadra, one of the most backward districts of the State, with two seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India would not spare any effort in bringing home its citizens from Ukraine. “It is due to the rising strength of India that we are able to bring back our citizens from Ukraine,” he said.

Mr. Modi said the BJP government had increased the number of forest products on which minimum support price (MSP) is provided from eight to 10 to 90. “We have provided 20 lakh plots to land for tribal families,” he said.

Highlighting that Sonbhadra has been included in the list of aspirational districts, Mr. Modi said the government had a scheme whereby a portion of earnings from the minerals of Sonbhadra was to be used for the development of its people. “For the first time, I am observing that the public is fighting the election. This is the election to save the Constitution,” he said.

In Jaunpur, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav said this was an election for change.

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