Varanasi: The seventh and last phase of polling to pick a new Uttar Pradesh assembly will be held on Wednesday in seven districts of poverty-struck Poorvanchal region.
Around 14.1 million voters are eligible to take part in the balloting in the sprawling region that includes Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency.
The other districts which will see voting are Sonebhadra, Chandauli, Mirzapur, Ghazipur, Bhadohi and Jaunpur.
While the onus is on the ruling Samajwadi Party to retain the 24 of the 40 seats it won in 2012, a lot is also at stake for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Modi himself as the party swept the Poorvanchal in the 2014 Lok Sabha battle.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), trying hard to regain power in the country’s most populous state, has put in all its might to add to its 2012 tally of five seats.
The Congress, now a Samajwadi ally, won three seats in 2012, the Quami Ekta Dal one and three independents too made it to the outgoing assembly.
In Poorvanchal, poverty is a dominant theme. In his speeches, Modi spoke a lot on joblessness and poverty.
The BJP did not win even a single seat in five of the districts in 2012.
The last phase of election is a litmus test for BJP stalwarts.
Former Chief Minister and now Home Minister Rajnath Singh comes from Chandauli. Mahendranath Pandey, an MP, is a member in the Modi government. Ghazipur MP Manoj Sinha is Minister of State for Railways.
Apna Dal leader Anupriya Patel, a BJP ally, has a lot at stake too. Her parliamentary constituency Mirzapur goes to polls on Wednesday.
BJP leader Vijay Bahadur Pathak says the party was confident of doing “exceedingly well” in Poorvanchal.
“We have performed beyond our expectations in the last six phases. We are sure of getting maximum seats in the final phase,” Pathak told IANS.
The Samajwadi Party expelled most of its powerful Poorvanchal leaders after an internal party feud involving Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his estranged uncle Shivpal Singh.
Senior cabinet minister and Akhilesh Yadav aide Rajendra Chowdhary says the region has always stood by the Samajwadi Party.
The BSP is banking heavily on the appeal of Mukhtar Ansari and his family. The region is home to hundreds of thousands of weavers, many of whom are Muslims.
BSP chief Mayawati speaks of a groundswell in her party’s favour.
“People have tried and tested both Modi and Akhilesh Yadav and there is nothing but disappointment. Poorvanchal, like other parts of the state, is looking to the BSP for good governance,” the Dalit leader says.
Some areas are home to Maoists while some of the candidates have a criminal background. Security has been stepped in Sonebhadra, Mirzapur and Chandauli.
It is a triangular fight in Mughalsarai, Sakaldeha, Sayyedraza and Chakia seats in Chandauli. So is the case in Mirzapur, Chunar, Majhwa, Chanbe and Madihan in Mirzapur district.
Sonebhadra — Robertsganj, Ghorawal and Duddhi — will see a close contest between the BJP and BSP.
Political strongmen who are either in the fray or have fielded family members include Sigbatullah, Vineet Singh and Atul Rai (BSP), Dhananjay Singh (Independent), Alka Rai and Sushil Singh (BJP), Dinesh Kant (RLD) and Manoj Kumar (Samajwadi Party).
Varanasi has hogged the maximum limelight.
It has eight assembly constituencies of which the BJP won three. In all 127 candidates are in the fray in Varanasi. Modi, Akhilesh Yadav, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati extensively campaigned in the city.