Lucknow/Dehradun: Polling began on Wednesday in 67 Assembly constituencies of western Uttar Pradesh in the second of seven phases and in 69 Assembly seats in Uttarakhand.
The ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) in Uttar Pradesh had in 2012 won 34 of these seats spread across 11 districts. It has tied-up with Congress this time in the contest against BJP and BSP.
720 candidates are in the fray in this phase in UP with a maximum of 22 from Barhapur (Bijnor) and a minimum of four nominees from Dhanaura (Amroha). 2.28 crore people are eligible to vote, including over 1.04 crore women.
14,771 polling centres and 23,693 polling stations have been set up in the districts of Saharanpur, Bijnor, Moradabad, Sambhal, Rampur, Bareilly, Amroha, Pilibhit, Kheri, Shahjahanpur and Badaun and elaborate security arrangements made to ensure free amd fair polling, election officials said.
Prominent contestants in UP include controversial SP minister Azam Khan and his son Abdullah Azam, who are contesting from Rampur and Swar seats respectively, Saif Ali Naqvi, son of former Congress MP Zafar Ali Naqvi, former central minister Jitin Prasada from Tilhar (Shahjahanpur), BJP Legislature Party leader Suresh Kumar Khanna from Shahjahanpur city and state minister Mehboob Ali from Amroha.
BSP had bagged 18 seats last time, BJP 10, Congress three and others two.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah led the party campaign, intensifying their attack on Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his ally Congress. BJP is hoping to replicate its 2014 general election performance when it swept the politically crucial state.
The SP-Congress alliance's charge was spearheaded by Akhilesh and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
BSP supremo Mayawati reached out to minority voters and said she will prove pollsters wrong as she did in 2012, when they had predicted her defeat.
In the hill state of Uttarakhand, around 74.20 lakh voters will decide the fate of 628 candidates as 69 out of 70 assembly constituencies spread over 13 districts go to polls.
Polling in Karnaprayag seat has been put off to March 9 following the death of BSP candidate Kuldeep Singh Kanwasi in a road accident on Sunday.
Congress and BJP are locked in a straight contest in most of the seats but the presence of about a dozen rebel candidates in the fray as independents and the saffron party fielding former Congressmen may upset the calculations.
Rahul held two public meetings in Rishikesh and Someshwar besides a 75-km roadshow in Haridwar district which has the maximum number of 11 constituencies in Uttarakhand.
Chief Minister Harish Rawat has gone all out to woo voters by holding several public meetings and roadshows on daily basis in perhaps the most crucial election of his career.
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A total of 30,000 security personnel including 105 companies of central armed police force, 25 companies of Provincial Armed Constabulary, Uttarakhand police and the homeguards have been deployed. For the first time voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines will be used in these elections in Uttarakhand.
The BJP has been attacking the ruling parties in both the states over corruption. Modi raised the issue of demonetisation and surgical strikes repeatedly at his rallies.
Congress and Samajwadi Party have in turn accused Modi of failing to deliver on his promises and causing suffering to the common man with note ban.
With western Uttar Pradesh having vast tracts of agricultural land, Modi played the pro-poor and pro-farmers card and reiterated BJP's promise of waiving loans of small and marginal farmers and paying the dues of sugarcane growers within 14 days of coming to power.
Interestingly, political bigwigs, including SP patron Mulayam Singh Yadav and Congress president Sonia Gandhi were conspicuous by their absence from the campaign trail in the first two phases of polling.
At her rallies, Mayawati went all out against the SP, alleging that the Akhilesh government had let loose a "reign of terror" in Uttar Pradesh with hooligans committing "utmost atrocities" against women.
The BSP supremo also accused the Modi government of "interfering" with the personal law of Muslims and ending reservations for backward communities in jobs and promised to extend quota benefits to the poor among the upper castes.
Her refrain was that if Muslims wanted to defeat the BJP, they should not waste their votes by backing the SP-Congress alliance.
The Election Commission has barred political parties and candidates from publishing advertisements in newspapers today and tomorrow without its approval.
The EC has asked them to get the advertisements pre-certified from the Media Certification and Monitoring Committee at the state and district levels before their publication.
The poll body said the decision has been taken in view of past instances of advertisements of offending and misleading nature in print media on such occasions which vitiate the elections.
The first phase of UP polls in 73 assembly seats in UP witnessed 64.22 per cent turnout on February 11. The other five phases will be held on February 19, 23 and 27 and on March 4 and 8.
Manipur will vote on March 4 and 8. Goa and Punjab have voted on February 4.
Counting of votes in all the states will be taken up on March 11, culminating the exercise.