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New Delhi, Feb 11: Uttar Pradesh is ready to go for polls as the first phase of the Assembly election began at 7 am today. The phase 1 of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections cover 15 districts of west UP including politically as well as communally charged districts of Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Agra, Gautam Buddh Nagar, Meerut, Baghpat, Etah and Mathura among a few others. The first phase includes 73 out of the 403 assembly seats and the prime contenders in the assembly poll, the BJP, the BSP, the Congress-SP alliance and the RLD are quite ready to go for the votes in this decisive phase.

While voters queued in front of polling booths from early morning, voting began successfully in Mathura, Dadri, Thana Bhawan and Noida Sector 15 A. However, some glitch occurred at booth no.42 in Mathura’s Govardhan and and in booth nos 119 and 120 in Baghpat and hence polling was delayed. Reports claim that the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in these booths were not functioning.

The political dynamics of west UP lies in the fact that it consists of the diversity which Uttar Pradesh is made of. The region is a vote bank in terms of the presence of the Jat, the Muslim and the Dalit communities, and it is this presence that all the parties are seemingly attempting to exploit for their victory. In the region, the presence of the agrarian community can also not be ignored along with the Hindu community.

Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) this year fielded Muslim candidates on 18 out of the 73 assembly constituencies in phase 1 and at the same time, the newly formed Congress-Samajwadi Party (SP) alliance has given the election tickets to Muslim candidates in 12 constituencies. This clearly is an indication how this community is expected to be pivotal in deciding the fate of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections of 2017.

While initially, the struggle for power in Uttar Pradesh had four leading contenders, namely the BJP, the SP, the BSP and the Congress, later after an elongated family feud withing SP, there formed the new alliance of SP and Congress, making the struggle a tripartite one. But the reemergence of Chaudhary Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) has undoubtedly modified that scenario as well.

Notably, the RLD’s primary vote base is the Jat community and with the coming of the RLD, the calculations of the BJP or the SP regarding the Jat votes must be redone. Although, Ch. Ajit Singh is still trying to regain the Jat support of the area. The RLD has fielded candidates in 59 out of 73 seats of Phase 1. Out of that 5 candidates also belong to the Muslim community.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has, as its manifest reflects, taken care to woo mostly the Hindu community. The manifest which targets issues of banning of cow slaughter houses and construction of the Ram Mandir are nothing but attempts to acquire the votes of the Hindus in the region. It is noteworthy that during the 2012 assembly elections the BJP secured only 9 seats in the region. Going by that one would wonder the odds of BJP actually hoping to rule the State. But the General poll of 2014 changed the whole perception as BJP did extraordinarily well by winning 71 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh. The challenge thus, for BJP, throughout the campaign, was to keep that spirit up in the people and garner that support of 2014 in this years assembly elections as well.

Moreover, in a bid to channelise the votes of the agrarian community in the region, the BJP played its pro-poor and pro-farmers card and emphasised the party’s promise of waiving loans to small and marginal farmers and paying the dues of sugarcane growers within 14 days of coming to power.

The BSP, which won 23 seats in 2012, is banking upon the Muslim-Dalit combination in the first phase and the data that BSP has fielded 18 Muslim candidates does only confirm that. Throughout the campaign, Mayawati has been saying how the BJP government will be detrimental for minorities and backward classes of the state. She targeted the recent issue of ‘Triple Talaq’ eradication and also said that the Modi government will do away with reservations in jobs if they come to power. As a matter of fact, the shade worn by the BJP this year is no less saffron than what Mayawati is actually claiming it to be. Hence, it will be actually interesting to see how the Muslim and the Dalit voters react to the stimuli presented by the BJP and the BSP.

The SP-Congress alliance on the other hand is banking upon the development model presented by Akhilesh Yadav in his inaugurating various projects. The launch of the Metro is also another metaphorical feather in his metaphorical cap. In the Rahul Gandhi front, he is mostly there, being a youth’ icon’ for the Congress and for his rants against demonetisation. But the formula the SP-Congress is targeting for the polls is a slightly different one.

While projecting the secular idea, the alliance is trying to channelise the votes of the Gujjar community towards themselves. They have fielded, in Phase 1, 12 Muslim candidates and 10 candidates from the Gujjar community. Notably, the Gujjar community on itself is not influential and is part of the Backward caste list, but if their numbers are mixed with the Muslim votes, they can be pretty important. This is where lies the SP-Congress alliance’s formula. However, in the 2012 elections, the SP won 24 seats while the Congress secured only 5 seats.

The 15 districts which are going for polls today are Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Baghpat, Meerut, Gautam Buddha Nagar, Ghaziabad, Bulandshahr, Mathura, Aligarh, Hathras, Meerut, Agra, Firozabad, Etah and Kasganj. The rest of the phases will vote on February 15, 19, 23 , 27 and March 4 and 8. The counting of votes will be on March 11.