Daily Bhaskar
Lucknow/New Delhi

Brisk polling was reported in first two hours of polling on Thursday from most of the 49 assembly constituencies that voted in the fifth round of the seven-phased Uttar Pradesh elections, including areas considered the state's badlands.

The fifth phase of Assembly elections that went to polling amid tight security is an acid test for Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav and Bharatiya Janata Party star campaigner Uma Bharti.

Chief Electoral Officer Umesh Sinha said polling began at 7 a.m. and in the first four hours it is estimated to have crossed 21 percent. He was hopeful of a further rise in turnout.

As many as 829 candidates are in the fray for 49 seats spread across 13 districts, where 1.56 crore electors are expected to cast their vote at 17,267 polling centres.

The constituencies that went to polls are spread across Ferozabad, Kanshiram Nagar, Etah, Mainpuri, Etawah, Auraiya, Ramabainagar, Kanpur, Jalaun, Jhansi, Lalitpur, Hamirpur and Mahoba districts.

The round five will cover five of the seven districts in Bundelkhand and the remaining part of central UP. After the fifth phase, only western UP and Rohillakhand will remain to vote. The final two rounds will take place on February 28 and March 3. Counting of votes will be taken up on March 6.

Apart from a large presence of Yadavs, the region also has a substantial population of Lodhis. While Mulayam is widely known as the pied piper of his community, this phase is also an acid test for Uma Bharti, whose sole aim is to wean away the Lodhi community, who has so far rallied behind the former UP chief minister and ousted BJP leader Kalyan Singh, who formed the Rashtriya Kranti Party.

The only other prominent leader, whose prestige would be at test in this phase is Union coal minister Shriprakash Jaiswal , who is the sitting Congress member of Parliament from Kanpur city.

The Yadav community, which accounts for 13.8% of the electorate in the districts facing elections today, has, since the late 1980s, been consistently reposing its faith in the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party, with the exception of a series of bypolls that followed the 2009 general elections.

Even in the 2007 assembly polls, which witnessed a Mayawati wave across the state, the districts of Mainpuri and Etawah stood behind the Yadav chieftain. While SP made a clean sweep in Mainpuri, bagging all four assembly constituencies, it romped home victorious in three of the four seats falling in Etawah.

Its scorecard in the other Yadav-dominated districts was not as good, and it could only win a seat each in Jhansi, Auraiya, Kanpur Dehat and Etah.

SP fared much better in the parliamentary elections held two years later, as it led in 22 assembly segments in the constituencies going to polls in the fifth phase. While Mulayam Singh Yadav himself emerged victorious from Mainpuri, his son Akhilesh got the electorate's nod from Firozabad, besides Kannauj. SP candidates also bagged the constituencies of Etawah and Jalaun.

Of 248 fifth-phase nominees scanned by the National Election Watch, 76 (31%) have criminal cases pending against them. Also, almost half - 118 - of the total are crorepatis.

With a hung assembly predicted by most pollsters and pundits, BSP, SP, Congress and BJP have ratcheted up their campaign to mobilise public opinion in their favour in regions yet to be touched by the polls. The stakes are high for all players. In the 2007 assembly polls, BSP had walked away with a majority of seats (27) from this belt, securing 31.4% votes. But it took a beating in the Lok Sabha elections held only two years back, with SP and Congress surging past it. While SP took the lead in 22 assembly segments, Congress was ahead in 10 segments. BSP's leads had been reduced to 9. 

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