Lucknow: As the battle for last two phases of Lok Sabha polls intensifies in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP faces its toughest challenge from the SP-BSP alliance which has established a firm grip in the 14 seats that will go to polls on Sunday.
Some of the big names at stake include Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, Bhojpuri actor Dinesh Lal yadav, Congress’s Sanjay Singh, BJP leaders Maneka Gandhi and Jagdambika Pal. The BJP had won 13 out of 14 seats in the 2014 general elections, but with the SP-BSP alliance in place this time, the victory is unlikely to be a cakewalk.
The constituencies going to polls in in the state on May 12 include Azamgarh, Sulatnpur, Allahabad, Phulpur, Pratapgarh, Ambedkarnagar, Shravasti, Dumariyaganj, Basti, Santkabir nagar, Jaunpur, Lalganj, Bhadohi and Machchlishehar.
Former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is contesting from Azamgarh, a seat which was won by his father and SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav in 2014, despite the Modi wave. The BJP has fielded Bhojpuri actor Dinesh Lal Yadav ‘Nirahua’ against Yadav from this constituency. He is likely to be the only Yadav candidate fielded by BJP in the state. Meanwhile, the Congress has not fielded any candidate from here.
In the adjoining Lalganj seat, BJP candidate and current MP Neelam Sonkar is locked in a close contest with SP-BSP alliance candidate Seema Azad.
In Sultanpur, the contest has taken a triangular turn, with BJP leader Maneka Gandhi contesting against Congress’s old guard Sanjay Singh and SP-BSP fielding strongman Chandrabhan Singh alias Sonu. Maneka, who was Pilibhit MP, has this time swapped seats with her son Varun Gandhi, who had won Sultanpur in 2014.
In the Pratapgarh constituency, Rani Ratna Singh is contesting on a Congress ticket against Apna Dal’s Sangamlal Gupta. Apna Dal got this seat as part of the pre-poll alliance with the BJP. The SP-BSP gathbandhan has fielded Ashok Kumar Tripathi and Raja Bhaiyya’s party Jansatta Dal has fielded Akshay Pratap Singh from this seat.
The Phulpur Lok Sabha seat, which was won by SP-BSP joint candidate during the bypolls in 2018, will be the seat that the alliance would want to retain at any cost. This time SP-BSP alliance has fielded Pandhari Yadav, while BJP has fielded Keshri Patel and Congress has fielded Pankaj Niranjan. In the neighbouring Allahabad seat, once considered as a Congress bastion, the grand old party has fielded turncoat Yogesh Shukla. The saffron party has fielded Rita Bahuguna Joshi, former Congress leader and current minister in Yogi Government. The SP-BSP alliance has fielded Rajendra Patel from Allahabad parliamentary seat.
Another important seat in fray in the sixth phase is Ambedkarnagar, which was once the home turf of BSP chief Mayawati who started her career as an MP from here. The seat was won by BJP candidate Hariom Pandey in 2014. This time, the party has fielded Mukut Bihari Verma in order to please the Kurmi voters of this belt. The alliance has fielded Ritesh Pandey, son of former BSP MP Rakesh Pandey, to take on Mukut Verma. The contest became bipolar after the nomination of Congress candidate and husband of Phoolan Devi, Ummed Singh, got cancelled due to discrepancies in his nomination papers.
The Shravasti Lok Sabha will witness a direct contest between the BJP and SP-BSP. However, the Congress may spoil the game by cutting votes of either sides. The BJP has fielded its sitting MP Daddan Mishra and the SP-BSP alliance has fielded Ram Shiromani Verma. The Congress has given ticket to former MLA Dhirendra Pratap Singh.
In the Domariyaganj Lok Sabha constituency, the BJP has once again given ticket to its MP Jagdambika Pal who had made a switch from the Congress in 2014. The SP-BSP alliance has placed its bet on Aftab Alam and the Congress has fielded Dr Chandresh Upadhyay. In the adjoining Basti seat, the BJP has once again shown confidence in its sitting MP, Harish Dwivedi. The SP-BSP alliance has fielded its 2014 candidate Ram Prasad Chaudhri once again and the Congress has fielded turncoat Rajkishor Singh.
Another important seat, which holds strategic importance, is Sant Kabir Nagar. After controversy over the shoe-hurling incident in March, the BJP denied ticket to Sharad Tripathi and fielded turncoat and Gorakhpur MP, Pravin Nishad, from this seat.
Tripathi and Mehdawal MLA Rakesh Baghel had got into a scuffle at a meeting of the District Planning Committee on March 6. After a brief exchange of words, laced with abuses, both came to blows with one of them using a shoe to thrash the other, leaving officials and party leaders stunned.
The Congress has fielded a turncoat Bhalchandra Yadav from Sant Kabir Nagar and the SP-BSP alliance has fielded Kushal Tiwari alias Bhishm Shankar, a Brahmin candidate.
Mindful of the caste arithmetic in the Jaunpur seat, the saffron party has fielded its current MP KP Singh, the SP-BSP alliance has fielded Shyam Singh Yadav and the Congress has fielded Devvrat Mishra. In the adjoining Machchlishehar seat, the SP-BSP alliance has fielded T Ram, while the BJP has given ticket to BP Saroj.
The Bhadohi Lok Sabha seat, which is known for its carpet and weaving business, will witness a vlose battle between Congress’s turncoat Ramakant Yadav and BJP’s Ramesh Bind. By giving a ticket to Bind, the saffron party is hoping to fetch votes from the backward castes. The SP-BSP alliance has fielded Rangnath Mishra from Bhadohi.
Altogether, 177 candidates are contesting in these 14 constituencies, where 2.53 crore people are eligible to vote across 16,998 polling centres.