Uttar Pradesh, February 11: Voting for the first phase of Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections 2017 on 73 assembly constituencies in 15 districts of Western Uttar Pradesh began today. A total of 839 candidates will be contesting on 73 assembly seats to what is billed to be the semi-final before the 2019 national election. Considered as a four-cornered battle, Western UP will decide the fate of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), CongressSamajwadi Party (SP) alliance, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). Most of the constituencies voting today fall in the communally sensitive areas which include the riot-hit areas of Muzaffarnagar-Shamli, Kairana, Meerut, Mathura, Aligarh, Bulandshahr and Agra. Communal clashes and boil continue to occur in many of these areas. Here are the key candidates contesting in the first phase of Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections:

Pankaj Singh (Noida Constituency)

Pankaj Singh, son of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, is making his electoral debut in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, contesting from Noida constituency. Pankaj Singh holds an MBA degree from Amity University and he has been active in politics since 2002. Considered as an important seat, several Union ministers campaigned for Pankaj in the Noida constituency. Pankaj Singh will be contesting the election against Sunil Choudhary of Samajwadi Party, Ravikant Mishra of BSP, Brijesh of RLD and Kishore Singh of Bharatiya Democratic Socialist Alliance Party. According to data available with Election Commission of India, Noida consists a total of 4,28,259 electorates out of which, 2,49,289 are male voters and 1,78,970 are female voters. The seat is considered to be a safe seat of BJP and in the 2012 Assembly elections, Mahesh Kumar Sharma of BJP won the election from Noida constituency by 27,676 votes.

Sangeet Som (Sardhana Constituency)

One of the controversial BJP leaders alleged to be involved in the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013, Sangeet Som is contesting UP Assembly elections from Sardhana constituency. Som is accused of stoking communal tensions in Dadri’s Bisada village after the killing of Mohammed Akhlaq. Sangeet Som has also been in controversy while campaigning for the 2017 Assembly elections. He was booked under several sections, including Section 125 in the Representation of the People’s Act, 1951 (promoting feeling of enmity or hatred between people on grounds of religion, race, caste in connection with election) after the opposition alleged that Som has been projecting a CD which shows him as the Hindu hero during the 2013 riots. Sangeet Som is the sitting MLA from Sardhana constituency and he is contesting the elections against Atul Pradhan of Samajwadi Party and Imran Qureshi of BSP. (Also Read: Polling delayed in Govardhan and Baghpat districts due to technical glitch in EVMs)

Suresh Mathur (Mathura Constituency)

Suresh Mathur is an incumbent Congress MLA who has been winning the Mathura seat for the past four terms. In the 2017 Assembly elections, Mathur has been challenged by BJP National Spokesperson Srikant Sharma. Mathura is considered to witness a high profile contest in the triangular battle between Suresh Mathur of Congress, Srikant Sharma of BJP and Yogeshwar Dwiwedi of BSP.

Suresh Rana (Thana Bhawan Constituency)

Another controversial MLA of BJP, Suresh Rana is accused to be involved in the Muzaffarnagar riots, Rana was recently booked for hate speech over his remarks that curfew will be imposed in Kairana if he is elected again. Suresh Rana will be contesting from Thana Bhawan constituency against Abdul Waris Khan of BSP and Sudhir Pawan, a Lucknow University Professor contesting on Samajwadi Party ticket.

Rahul Yadav (Sikandarabad Constituency)

Contesting on Samajwadi Party ticket from Sikandarabad seat of Bulandshaher District, Rahul Yadav is the son-in-law of former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav. Rahul Yadav is the son of Congress leader Jitendra Yadav and he is married to Lalu Prasad Yadav’s fourth daughter Ragini.