BJP struggles to hold its turf in UP during penultimate phase of election

BJP struggles to hold its turf in UP during penultimate phase of election
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The Lok Sabha election is nearing its end with the sixth and penultimate phase of voting on Sunday when 59 constituencies across seven states will go the polls.

In the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the largest contingent of 80 lawmakers to Lok Sabha, voting will be held in 14 constituencies.

Sultanpur, Pratapgarh, Phulpur, Allahabad, Ambedkar Nagar, Shrawasti, Domariyaganj, Basti, Sant Kabir Nagar, Lalganj, Azamgarh, Jaunpur, Machhlishahr and Bhadohi are the constituencies where voting will be held on Sunday.

All these constituencies are located in eastern part of the state, extending from the border with Nepal in the north to border with Madhya Pradesh in the south.

The estimated number of voters in these UP constituencies are about 2.53 crore.

Campaigning for this round ended on Friday.

High-voltage rallies, allegations and appeals by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Congress general secretary for eastern UP Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were the highlights of the campaign.

Former chief ministers Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also addressed many rallies.

BJP struggles to hold its turf in UP during penultimate phase of election
BSP chief Mayawati, SP leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav. File photo

BJP's dilemma

In the 2014 election, the BJP had won 13 out of these 14 seats.

In places like Jaunpur, Machhlishahr, Phulpur, Shrawasti, Lalganj, Ambedkar Nagar and Sant Kabirnagar, the BJP does not have a consistent record of winning.

It was in 2014 that the BJP won for the first time in these seats.

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BJP faces a tough challenge to retain these seats in this election.

The SP and BSP, as part of their alliance strategy, have put up candidates as per their earlier victory record.

Basti and Bhadohi are seats where the BJP had won even before 2014, but these are traditional BSP strongholds.

Main candidates

Among the prominent candidates in the region are SP leader Akhilesh Yadav from Azamgarh and BJP's Maneka Gandhi from Sultanpur.

In 2014, Azamgarh was the only seat lost by the BJP out of these 14 seats, with the then SP party president Mulayam Singh Yadav getting elected from here.

Now his son Akhilesh is trying to retain the seat as Mulayam has moved to the family bastion of Mainpuri in western UP. Akhilesh is being challenged by a popular Bhojpuri film actor Dinesh Lal Yadav 'Nirhua'.

Incidentally, 'Nirhua' had been honoured with the state ward 'Yash Bharti' during the SP regime headed by Akhilesh.

Among the members of former 'royal' families in the fray is former MP Sanjay Singh, son of the erstwhile 'raja' of Amethi, who is challenging Maneka Gandhi as the Congress candidate. She has changed her constituency from Pilibhit that she won in 2014, to Sultanpur. Her son Varun Gandhi is the BJP candidate in Pilibhit.

BJP struggles to hold its turf in UP during penultimate phase of election
Maneka Gandhi

Interestingly, an election rally and road show had been staged in Sultanpur by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Thursday, a first such campaign outing by her in a region, where a family member of a rival party is contesting. In earlier elections, Priyanka used to avoid seats from where Maneka or Varun were contesting.

In Pratapgarh, it is a clash between scions of two 'royal' families as the Congress has again fielded 'Rajkumari' Ratna Singh, a three-time Congress MP. She is the scion of the erstwhile royal family of Kalakankar in Pratapgarh.

The area is also the stronghold of Raghuraj Pratap Singh, alias 'Raja Bhaiya', of the erstwhile Bhadri state.

He is an independent MLA who has been supporting the SP in the state and has also been part of successive SP governments.

Raghuraj Pratap Singh floated his party, Jan Satta Dal-Loktantrik, a few months ago. He has put up Akshay Pratap Singh, a former SP MP from this seat.

In Allahabad, the BJP candidate is Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who was with the Congress till 2016.

She is the present MLA from Lucknow Cantonment seat and also a minister in the Yogi Adityanath government in the state.

Incidentally, BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi has represented this seat thrice before being shifted to Kanpur in 2014. However, he is not contesting election this time.

Former BJP MP from Allahabad, Shyama Charan Gupta, who quit the party and switched over to SP, is the party candidate from Banda.

Ambedkar Nagar, formerly known as Akbarpur, was in the news recently when Mayawati indicated that she would choose this constituency to contest for Lok Sabha if the need arose.

She has won the Lok Sabha elections from Ambedkar Nagar four times - 1989, 1998, 1999 and 2004.

While the BJP has been depending heavily on Modi's appeal, other parties seem to have banked on the prevailing caste equations and the candidates' local standing.

The SP-BSP alliance is quite hopeful of having a good haul from this round, while the Congress hopes to dent both the SP-BSP alliance and the BJP, wherever it is in a position to do so.

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