New delhi

The seven-phase Uttar Pradesh (UP) Assembly election kicks off with the sensitive western region going to polls on Saturday in the first phase. Elaborate security arrangements have been put in place in all the 73 constituencies concerned. The voting process will end on March 8 to elect a total of 403 MLAs.

The contest in this region is quadrangular, with the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) forming an alliance with the Congress to counter the BJP, and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) also in the fray. Of the 73 seats that go to polls in the first phase, the BSP and SP have 24 sitting MLAs each. The BJP has 11, the RLD has nine and the Congress has five. Some 839 candidates are contesting in this phase, of whom 168 (20 per cent) have declared criminal cases against them.

According to data compiled by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), 143 candidates (17 per cent) have declared serious criminal cases against them, including cases related to murder, attempt to murder, etc. The BSP tops the list with 26 (36 per cent) of its candidates facing serious criminal cases.

The richest candidate in the fray in the first phase is from the Congress, Nazir Ahamad contesting from Agra South, who has declared Rs 211 crore in assets. The ‘poorest’ is an independent candidate from the Thana Bhawan constituency, who has declared zero assets in the sworn affidavit.

Mayawati is counting heavily on Muslim votes to increase her tally from the region. Ajit Singh is banking on his traditional Jat community, who had deserted him in the Lok Sabha polls and voted the BJP to power. The BJP is focusing on Dalits to cut into Mayawati’s support base. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also played the pro-poor and pro-farmer card, with a promise to waive off loans for small and marginal farmers and pay the dues of sugarcane growers within 14 days of coming to power. These promises were made to wean the agrarian class away from Ajit Singh.

The SP is also banking on the Muslim population, particularly in the Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts, hoping they forget the communal riots of 2013. But with a group of Muslim religious leaders on her side, the BSP supremo has also garnered support of the people harassed by the Jats, an upper caste, and Yadavs, who thrived during the SP’s tenure. She got further support on Friday when Delhi Jama Masjid’s Shahi Imam Ahmed Bukhari openly appealed to Muslims to vote for the BSP.

The SP-Congress alliance is focusing on Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s “Vikas” (development) card and projecting him and Rahul Gandhi as two youth icons who can bring about real change in Uttar Pradesh.

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