Uttar Pradesh had its first phase of polling today. According to Election Commission data, 48.3% voter turnout has been recorded till 3 pm.
58 seats in 11 districts of Western Uttar Pradesh (UP) went to polls today. In the fray are 623 candidates whose fate will be decided by around 2.27 crore voters. The Jat-dominated belt will be a close watch because of the farmers' protest, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) alliance and BJP’s vote calling on law and order in the state.
The region which was swept by the BJP in the 2017 UP Assembly Elections, when the saffron party won 53 of 58 seats, is expected to throw a surprise this time.
In 2017, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidates were runners-up in 32 seats, while SP was runner-up in 17. BJP had successfully wrested the seats amid the Modi wave.
This time around, among the 58 seats that went to poll today, are some that will see a hot battle.
Here are 5 close contests in Western UP to watch out for:
BJP candidate from Kairana, Mriganka Singh. Photo: Facebook
Kairana is a small town in the Shamli district of Western UP. BJP’s Mriganka Singh is pitted against SP-RLD candidate Nahid Hasan. Mriganka is the eldest daughter of Hukum Singh, late BJP MLA and MP who won the seat several times from here.
Mriganka lost to Hasan in the 2017 UP Assembly contest by 21,162 votes. Nahid had won the seat in 2014 by-poll too, defeating BJP's Anil Chauhan. Hukum Singh, who won the seat in 2012, vacated it when he became an MP in 2014 from Kairana on a BJP ticket. He died in 2018 after prolonged illness.
SP has re-elected Nahid Hasan this time even as the BJP alleges him to be a criminal. On January 15, 2022, he was arrested by UP Police and charged under the Uttar Pradesh Gangster and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act. He was remanded to judicial custody by the MP/MLA court. In his absence, his sister took on the campaigning for him. SP leader Akhilesh Yadav called it a vendetta by the BJP.
Kairana is also an interesting contest because it was rocked by the famous exodus allegations of BJP in 2017. BJP’s late minister Hukum Singh came up with a list of 346 families who he said fled Kairana due to the threat of criminals under SP’s rule. However, an investigation by UP Police and Shamli district administration couldn’t find merit in the claim. Indian Express also went to investigate and found that many of the people mentioned in the list had either died or left Kairana around 10 years ago due to better job opportunities, etc.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah kickstarted his campaign from the seat on January 22, 2022. The BJP is riding on the success of law and order the Yogi Adityanath government achieved in the state during the last five years. The SP-RLD alliance will bank on the anti-farmers stir and unemployment in the state under BJP's rule.
Baby Rani Maurya. Photo: Facebook/Baby Rani Maurya
Agra district, also known as the 'Tajnagri', has 9 Assembly seats, out of which two seats - Agra Rural and Agra Cantonment - are reserved seats. In the 2017 Assembly Elections, the BJP swept all 9 while BSP’s 7 candidates were runners-up.
BJP has pitted former Uttarakhand Governor and Dalit face Baby Rani Maurya against Mayawati’s BSP in the Agra Rural seat. She is the first Dalit woman to serve as the Mayor of Agra in 1995. She was the Governor of Uttarakhand again from 2018-2021. She resigned from the governorship in September 2021 and was made the National Vice-President of the BJP.
In 2007 too, she had unsuccessfuly contested from the Etmadpur constituency against BSP's Narayan Singh Suman.
In the contest at Agra Rural are BJP’s Baby Rani Maurya, BSP’s Kiran Prabha Kesari (41), RLD’s Mahesh Kumar (52), AAP’s Arun Kumar Katheria (37) and Congress’s Upendra Singh (51).
Agra district makes for an important contest because the district has 21% SC population, which once formed a core vote bank for Mayawati’s BSP. But the BJP succeeded in pulling the non-Jatav votes towards it in 2017.
Mayawati started her UP 2022 campaign on February 2 from Agra, where she came down hard on opposition parties. While she attacked BJP for rising inflation, persecution of Dalits and sectarian violence, she also attacked SP and Congress for being cold towards Dalits.
The election holds the future of Mayawati’s influence in UP politics. She has been quite withdrawn from the media attention for some time, and the 2022 Assembly contest will definitely decide her party’s future in national politics.
Muzaffarnagar district has 6 Assembly seats, and all 6 were swept by the BJP in 2017 Assembly Elections. The Muzaffarnagar Assembly seat went to SP in 2012 when its MLA Chitranjan Swaroop defeated the nearest rival, BJP’s Ashok Kansal, by a margin of 15,002 votes.
The district was hit by riots in 2013. The 2013 riots led to strong polarisation of the voters. In the Muzaffarnagar by-polls in 2015, BJP’s sitting MLA Kapil Dev Agarwal won the seat. In 2017, he won it again in the Assembly Elections. The whole Western UP belt saw a huge polarisation, which worked well in the favour of BJP.
In the contest in 2022 are BJP’s Kapil Dev Agarwal, SP-RLD’s Saurabh Swaroop Bansal, BSP’s Pushpankar Pal, Congress’s Subodh Sharma and AAP’s Aabha Sharma.
But the coming together of SP and RLD, and the combat resistance against the anti-farm laws might alter the vote share this time. Though PM Narendra Modi took back the three laws, the farmers are far from convinced. Instead, there appears a huge resentment of the Jats which had stood with the BJP up till now.
The SP-RLD camp seeks to consolidate the Jat and Muslim votes in this belt. It will be interesting to see which way the Jat farmers go.
Meerut district has 5 Assembly seats including Hastinapur seat, which is a reserved seat. The contest in Hastinapur will be close because BJP’s sitting MLA Dinesh Khateek (45) is up against SP’s Yogesh Verma (53) and Congress’s new candidate Archana Gautam (28). Gautam was an actor and model before she joined Congress, and the party announced her name on January 15. After her name was announced, her pictures from her modelling days went viral.
BSP’s Yogesh Verma lost the seat to BJP’s Khateek by 36,062 votes in 2017. In 2012, SP’s Prabha Dayal Balmiki won the seat.
This time, the BSP has fielded Sanjiv Kumar Jatav while the AIMIM has fielded a non-Muslim candidate Vinod Jatav. AAP’s Anmol Kumar is also in the fight from here.
BJP MLA Sangeet Som. Photo: Facebook
Also, in the Meerut district, the Sardhana Assembly seat will be interesting to watch out as BJP’s rabble-rouser MLA Sangeet Som is contesting from there. Som, who won the seat in 2012 and 2017, is contesting for the third time. He defeated Atul Pradhan of SP by 21,000 votes in 2017.
Mathura has 5 Assembly seats. The BJP won 4 out of 5 seats in 2017. Here, the contest is among BJP’s sitting MLA and UP’s energy minister Shrikant Sharma who is up against BSP’s SK Sharma, SP’s Devendra Agarwal and Congress’s Pradeep Mathur.
In 2012, Congress candidate Pradeep Mathur won the seat but in 2017 amid the Modi wave, Shrikant Sharma defeated him by more than one lakh votes. The seat though, has never been won by SP and BSP, and has been the bastion of BJP of late.