Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav and Union minister Maneka Gandhi are among key contestants in the second-last phase of polling in 14 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh on Sunday.
Polling will be held in Sultanpur, Pratapgarh, Phulpur, Allahabad, Ambedkarnagar, Shrawasti, Domariyaganj, Basti, Sant Kabirnagar, Lalganj, Jaunpur, Machchlishahr, Bhadohi and Azamgarh constituencies in Purvanchal region of the state.
The Bharatiya Janata Party had won 13 of these 14 constituencies in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The only exception was Azamgarh, won then by SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav.
However, the BJP had to bite the dust in the bypolls in Phulpur and Gorakhpur constituencies last year. While, the anti-BJP alliance would like to retain its grip over both the seats, the saffron party is looking to wrest them from the opposition.
Their importance can be gauged from the fact that Gorakhpur was represented by Yogi Adityanath in Lok Sabha from 1998 to 2017, before he became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Similarly, Phulpur was won for the first time by the BJP in 2014, when Keshav Prasad Maurya emerged victorious from the seat once represented by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Maurya vacated the seat after he became the deputy chief minister of the state in 2017.
The BJP had swept the 2014 polls winning 71 of the total 80 seats in the state, with two others being won by ally Apna Dal (Sonelal). The Congress won two and the SP five.
In Azamgarh this time, Akhilesh Yadav is trying to retain his father’s seat against Bhojpuri film star Dinesh Lal Yadav ‘Nirahua’ of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
In 2016, Akhilesh Yadav had conferred the state’s prestigious Yash Bharti award on Nirahua, who says that he too was getting a good response from youth and the middle-income group in the constituency.
The SP president’s decision to contest from his father’s bastion is being touted as a move to consolidate the Yadav, Dalit and Muslim voters in the Purvanchal region of Uttar Pradesh.
The constituency has a substantial population of Yadavs, Jatavs and Muslims ― the three communities which form the crux of the SP-BSP alliance in the politically crucial state.
Since 1996, only Muslims and Yadavs have won the Azamgarh Lok Sabha seat.
Azamgarh has over 17 lakh voters. Estimates say that about four lakh of them are Yadavs, three lakh Muslims and around 2.75 lakh Dalits.
Sultanpur too is seeing an interesting contest as the BJP has fielded Union minister Maneka Gandhi for the seat won by her son Varun Gandhi in 2014.
The seats appear tricky for Maneka Gandhi as BJP strategists are relying on a division of Congress and gathbandhan votes, besides possible counter-polarisation of non-Yadav and non-Jatav Dalit and OBC votes.
The party is also hoping that the Modi factor and central welfare schemes will make the voters’ repose faith in the BJP yet again in the seat vacated by Maneka Gandhi’s son Varun Gandhi.
The Union minister faces Chandra Bhadra Singh of the BSP and Sanjay Singh of the Congress, who was the Sultanpur MP from 2009-14.
Sanjay Singh did not contest in 2014 but fielded his wife Ameeta Singh who ended fourth.
The constituency has a total of 1,430,955 eligible voters out of which 764,314 are males and 666,641 females.
Altogether, 177 candidates are contesting in these 14 constituencies, where 2.53 crore people are eligible to vote at 16,998 polling centers.