Electioneering drew to a close on Monday for the seventh and last phase of the high stakes 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections to be held on Wednesday, with each of the contenders predicting an overall lead in the 403-seat Assembly.
That Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded his campaign in Varanasi points to the fact that securing a clean sweep in his constituency matters as much as winning the State. Mr. Modi campaigned in Varanasi for three consecutive days.
After addressing two public meetings in the heart of the city and holding two massive road shows over the weekend, on Monday he addressed a rally in Rohaniya, 20 km from the town.
After paying obeisance at the Kashi Vishwanath and Kaal Bhairav temples, Mr. Modi wrapped up his Varanasi tour with a visit to the Gadwaghat Ashram, revered by Yadavs, before paying tribute to former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri at his birthplace in Ramnagar.
Fighting without a CM face, the BJP’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh, which came to an end on Monday, has revolved around Prime Minister Narendra Modi — his image, popularity, development model and the underlying message of Hindutva in the later stages, best reflected in his “shamshaan ghat-kabristan” speech in Fatehpur. Mr. Modi held close to two-dozen rallies across the State.
For the Prime Minister, the election to the 403-seat State Assembly is especially important, as the result would reflect his popularity, especially after the high-risk move of demonetisation.
A victory will help him consolidate the country’s most populous State ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls while a loss or anything less than an outright majority will be a direct reflection on the PM and his poll manager, Amit Shah, who has assiduously worked to bring the numerically significant non-Yadav backwards and non-Jatav Dalits under the BJP fold.
Incumbent Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav also had a busy last day of campaigning — addressing seven back-to-back rallies in Jaunpur, which abuts Varanasi. For Mr. Yadav, the election is also a personal challenge, as he stepped out from his father’s shadow and reconstructed his image to emerge as the supreme leader of the party.
With the theme of “Kaam Bolta Hai, [deeds speak louder]”, the thrust of SP president and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s campaign was to pitch his infrastructural projects and welfare schemes, which together with his tech savvy image form “Brand Akhilesh” beyond the Muslim-Yadav combine associated with the SP.
A loss for Mr. Yadav would raise questions over his decision to stage a coup against his father and oust his uncle Shivpal, while also putting in the doubt the credibility of the alliance with the Congress.
The Chief Minister continued to take pot shots at Mr. Modi over his extensive campaign in Varanasi, where the entire Central government team has been camping for the past few days, and interpreted it as a sign of nervousness.
BSP chief Mayawati, who completed her tours over the weekend, held a press conference in Lucknow and exuded confidence that her party would return to power.
After losing the 2012 State elections and facing humiliation in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Ms. Mayawati’s plans were rocked in the early stages with desertions of key leaders, including top OBC names, but she always maintained that would not impact her fortunes.
“Behenji ko aane do [let Behenji (Mayawati) come],” her supporters chanted on social media, as the BSP for the first time experimented on the interactive platform.
She has staked much on the Dalit-Muslim combine, allotting as many as 99 ticket to the minority community, the highest ever by any party.
Polling for the final 40 seats will be held on Wednesday [another seat in Ambedkarnagar will vote on Thursday as one of the candidates had died during election]. The districts are Ghazipur, Varanasi, Mirzapur, Bhadohi, Sonbhadra, Jaunpur and Chandauli.
In the last phase, the SP is fighting 31 seats, while its ally, Congress, is contesting nine. The BJP is fighting 32, leaving eight for its allies, while the BSP is fighting all 40. A total 1.4 crore people will decide the fate of 535 candidates.