Over 54 per cent polling was reported till 6 pm in 14 Lok Sabha constituencies of Uttar Pradesh on Sunday, an official said.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Union minister Maneka Gandhi are among the key contestants in the state in the sixth phase of the Lok Sabha polls.

“The average polling percentage in this phase in the state was 54.12 per cent this time,” state Chief Electoral Officer L Venkateswarlu told reporters here.

While Ambedkar Nagar recorded the highest turnout of 58.78 per cent, enthusiasm among voters was least in Allahabad, where 50.58 per cent exercised their franchise.

According to the Election Commission, the polling percentage in rest of the seats are: 54.56 per cent in Sultanpur, 53.20 per cent in Pratapgarh, 51.38 per cent in Phulpur, 51.41 per cent in Shrawasti, 51.80 per cent in Domariyaganj, 58 per cent in Basti, 53.30 per cent in Sant Kabir Nagar, 55.70 per cent in Lalganj, 56.20 per cent in Azamgarh, 54.80 per cent in Jaunpur, 53.20 per cent in Machlishahar and 54.76 per cent in Bhadohi.

In total, 177 candidates are contesting in these 14 constituencies, where 2.53 crore people are eligible to vote at 16,998 polling centres.

In Sultanpur, BJP leader Maneka Gandhi and BSP candidate Chandra Bhadra Singh had a face-off. Gandhi warned him that hooliganism wouldn’t work, but Singh dismissed her charge.

“In Azamgarh, a presiding officer was removed following complaints by SP workers, and a report has been sought from the district magistrate,” state Chief Electoral Officer L Venkateshwarlu said.

The officer said there were complaints about electronic voting machines (EVMs) and VVPAT devices, and the machines were replaced.

In Bhadohi, BJP legislator Dinanath Bhaskar allegedly beat up a presiding officer in the Aurai assembly segment, accusing the official of deliberately slowing the polling process.

District election officer Rajendra Prasad and Superintendent of Police Rajesh S said the incident took place at a primary school in Lakshmana village, where the BJP MLA and four other people started arguing with the presiding officer, Radheyshyam Tiwari.

“Subsequently, the BJP MLA and the people accompanying him beat up the presiding officer. The injured presiding officer was sent to hospital and another presiding officer was posted there,” Prasad said.

The SP said a case was being registered against Bhaskar and the four accused.

Polling was held in Sultanpur, Pratapgarh, Phulpur, Allahabad, Ambedkar Nagar, Shrawasti, Domariyaganj, Basti, Sant Kabirnagar, Lalganj, Jaunpur, Machhlishahr, Bhadohi and Azamgarh constituencies in Purvanchal region of the state.

The Bharatiya Janata Party had won 13 of these 14 constituencies in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The only exception was Azamgarh, which was won by SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The BJP, however, had to bite the dust in the by-polls in Phulpur and Gorakhpur constituencies last year. While the anti-BJP alliance would like to retain its grip over both the seats, the saffron party is looking to take sweet revenge from the Opposition in this round.

In Azamgarh, Akhilesh Yadav is trying to retain his father’s seat and he is up against Bhojpuri film star and BJP candidate Dinesh Lal Yadav ‘Nirahua’.

The SP president’s decision to contest from his father’s bastion is being touted as a move to consolidate the Yadav, Dalit and Muslim voters in the state’s Purvanchal region.

Sultanpur, too, is seeing an interesting contest as the BJP has fielded Maneka Gandhi for the seat, which was won by her son, Varun Gandhi, in 2014.

The seat appears tricky for Gandhi as BJP strategists are relying on a division of the Congress and the SP-BSP-RLD alliance votes, besides possible counter polarisation of non-Yadav and non-Jatav Dalit and OBC votes.