New delhi

The first of seven phases in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, which is considered to set the tone for the 2019 Union elections, will take place today with over two crore people eligible to vote across 73 constituencies. A total of 839 candidates - including the key parties of BJP, Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance as well as the Rashtriya Lok Dal and independents - will contest the 73 seats, spread across 15 districts of western Uttar Pradesh.

With 26 contestants, Agra South will see the maximum number of candidates while Hastinapur will the least number of candidates - six.

According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, approximately 40 per cent of the BJP candidates in phase-1 have declared criminal cases against them, the most, followed by the BSP with a close 39 per cent. The SP-Congress alliance has 28 per cent candidates with criminal cases whereas the RLD has 33 per cent such candidates in the first phase.

Elaborate security arrangements have been made in all districts. Of the 887 polling centres in Muzaffarnagar, 600 have been instilled with video cameras. Around 6,000 paramilitary personnel are also being deployed in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts.

While the SP hopes to retain power - albeit with the Congress this time, the BJP and BSP hope to regain power in the state after 13 and five years, respectively.

The BJP won 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 Union elections, decimating the Congress, SP and BSP - which were reduced to five, two and zero seats in the Lok Sabha elections. The election in Uttar Pradesh - along with those in Punjab, Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand - is considered to be a referendum on Mr Modi's demonetisation drive. In his campaigns across Uttar Pradesh, Mr Modi urged voters to root out 'SCAM' - an acronym for Samajwadi Party, Congress, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati.

Ms Mayawati is expected to be a five-time Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, should the BSP win. Her party was the worst sufferer in the state in the 2014 Union elections as it failed to register a single seat. This time, the party has fielded a record number of candidates belonging to the Muslim community, considered to be a key vote bank for the Samajwadi Party and the Congress.

The poll is also a crucial test for the new national president of Samajwadi Party, Akhilesh Yadav, who gained control of the party after a bitter feud with his father Mulayam Singh Yadav and uncle Shivpal Yadav. The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister has forged an alliance with the Congress and lately, Rahul Gandhi and Mr Yadav have been jointly campaigning all over Uttar Pradesh. The Congress will contest 24 seats whereas the Samajwadi Party has given tickets to 51 contestants in the first-phase.

Among the 2.6 crore people eligible voters, around 1.4 crore are male, 1.2 crore are female whereas there are a little over 1,500 voters from the third gender.

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