Campaign in the first of seven phased Assembly elections ended on Thursday in 73 seats of western Uttar Pradesh where Prime Minister Narendra Modi staked his all in the fight against SP-Congress alliance and BSP making it essentially a triangular contest. Urging the voters to end the ‘vikas ka vanvas’ (exile of development) and projecting demonetisation as an attack against corruption, Modi and BJP accused SP and BSP of plundering the state over the years and targeted the SP-Congress alliance, saying the two had come together to save themselves.
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Joining hands with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav led the SP assault, as party patriarch Mulayam kept away following family feud, with the two scions taking on Modi over “suffering” of common man due to note ban and his “unfulfilled” promise of ‘acche din’. Akhilesh also reached out to voters on his “performance”, claiming his government had taken up development works like Metro and expressways. The seats are spread over 15 districts of western Uttar Pradesh, including riot-scarred Muzaffarnagar and Shamli. BJP leaders like Yogi Adityanath and Sangeet Som raised the issue of alleged exodus of Hindus from some areas and accused the SP government of favouring a particular community.
In the last election SP and BSP had bagged 24 seats each and BJP had 11 out of the 73. The saffron party is hoping toimprove its tally as it had bagged 71 out of 80 seats in the state in the 2014 general election, but the SP-Congress tie-up has added a new dimension to the contest. The region is also a stronghold of Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh which had bagged nine seats while the Congress had got only five. The Muslim-dominated areas in the belt will be an acid test for BSP chief Mayawati, who is banking heavily on Dalit-Muslim vote bank. The region was once BSP’s favourite hunting ground.
In her rallies, Mayawati accused the Modi government of interfering with the personal law of Muslims and ending reservations for backward communities in jobs. She targeted Akhilesh government over the law and order situation and cautioned Muslims time and again that if they wanted to defeat BJP, they should not waste their votes by backing SP-Congress alliance.
As the campaign peaked, BJP stepped up its attack on the SP-Congress alliance terming it as a “theatre of the absurd”. Both Modi and BJP president Amit Shah hopped from one rally to another asking voters to choose between development agenda of BJP and those who give shelter to criminals, indulge in vote bank politics and encourage land and mine mafias.
Modi asked people to “rid the state of SCAM – S for Samajwadi (party), C for Congress, A for Akhilesh (Yadav) and M for Mayawati”, Irked over the acronym, Akhilesh Yadav in his rallies told the electorate that SCAM actually stood for ‘Save the Country from Amit Shah and Modi’. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi hit back at Modi saying a wrong doer sees scam in everything. He said “S infact stands for ‘service’, C for ‘courage’, A for ‘ability’ and M for ‘modesty’.”
Rahul harped on the issue of note ban and attacked Modi, saying, “Demonetisation has hurt the poor most”. The campaign saw stray incidents of violence with supporters of archrival SP and BSP clashing in Hathras district in which one person was killed and five others were injured.
In another incident, two bullet-riddled bodies, one identified as the brother of an RLD candidate, were found in a mango orchard near Khurja in Bulandshahr district. With western UP having vast agricultural land, Modi, in his speeches punctuated with wit and humour, played pro-poor and pro-farmers card and reiterated his party’s promise of waiving loans of small and marginal farmers and paying the dues of sugarcane growers within 14 days of coming to power.
Both Modi and Shah slammed Congress and Samajwadi Party, saying Rahul ran a campaign against the SP government and wondered as to what happened overnight that they were embracing each other. Raising the issue of demonetisation, Modi told the voters that it was a fight against corruption and for the rights of the poor. “Parties are angry with me as I am tightening screws on wrong doers,” he said at a rally in Aligarh. He said the parties are afraid that if he gets a majority in Rajya Sabha he will take more such decisions.
He also attacked Akhilesh over the law and order situation, accusing the ruling party leaders of sheltering and nursing criminals. Rahul and Akhilesh claimed the “SP-Congress storm” sweeping Uttar Pradesh will “blow away” BJP and BSP and “finish” Modi who is “trying to bring Company Raj” in India. Taking potshots at the two leaders, the BJP chief said, dubbed them as “‘khoobsurat shehzade’ (good-looking princes) who are out to mislead the public”.
“Mother is fed up with one and father is fed up with the other. How will they help UP? One has looted the country, while the other has looted the state,” he said, alleging “Congress and SP have an alliance of corruption and criminalisation”. BSP, which appears to be relying on Muslim support by giving them maximum 99 tickets (out of 403), targeted the BJP, alleging it was meting out step-motherly treatment to minority community and trying to abolish ‘Triple Talaq’ system.
The districts going to polls on February 11 in the first phase are Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Gautam Buddha Nagar, Hapur, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Mathura, Hathras, Agra, Firozabad, Etah and Kasganj. The other six phases will be held on February 15, 19, 23 and 27 and on March 4 and 8. Counting is on March 11.