The stage is set for polling in eight Lok Sabha seats of western Uttar Pradesh on Thursday amidst tight security in the first leg of the seven-phased general elections. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is making all-out efforts to retain all the eight Lok Sabha seats while the fledgeling Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance too is going whole hog to upset the saffron party’s apple cart.

In the 2014 parliamentary elections, the BJP had won all the eight seats– Saharanpur, Kairana, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor, Meerut, Baghpat, Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddh Nagar that figure in the first phase of the staggered elections.

The communally sensitive seat of Muzaffarnagar will see a clash of titans with RLD chief Ajit Singh locking horns with sitting BJP lawmaker Sanjeev Balyan.

For the saffron party, the Kairana parliamentary constituency holds immense significance as it had tasted defeat in the Lok Sabha bye-election last year.

The fate of three Union ministers– VK Singh (Ghaziabad), Satyapal Singh (Baghpat) and Mahesh Sharma (Gautam Buddha Nagar) will also be tested in this phase.

Elaborate security arrangements have been made for this phase and over one lakh security personnel have been deployed to ensure free and fair polls, Additional Director General, Law and Order of Uttar Pradesh Police Anand Kumar said.

“All necessary preparations have been made for the polling tomorrow on the eight seats. The polling will begin at 7 am and will continue till 6 pm,” Chief Electoral Officer, L Venkateshwar Lu said.

In the first phase, as many as 1,50,65,682 voters– 82,24,835 males, 68,39,833 females and 1,014 third genders– will exercise their franchise in 16,518 booths set up inside 6,716 polling centres to decide the fate of 96 candidates.

Prominent among those in the fray include– Imran Masood (Congress) and Raghav Lakhanpal (BJP) from Saharanpur, and Tabassum Begum (SP) from Kairana.

In Bijnor, Congress candidate and former UP minister (during Mayawati’s tenure) Naseemuddin Siddiqui will challenge Raja Bharatendra Singh, while in Meerut, BJP’s Rajendra Agarwal will be hoping for a repeat of 2014, while BSP’s Hazi Mohammad Yaqub will be trying to checkmate him.

In Baghpat, Union minister Satyapal Singh is pitted against Jayant Chaudhary (RLD), son of Ajit Singh.

Dolly Sharma of the Congress is contesting against Union minister V K Singh, while in Gautam Buddh Nagar, it is Union minister and BJP candidate Mahesh Sharma versus Arvind Kumar Singh of the Congress.

Politically crucial Uttar Pradesh sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha. Of the 80 seats in UP, SP is contesting on 37 seats, BSP on 38 seats, and the RLD will contest on three seats. UP will have seven-phase polling.