The stage is set for the crucial first phase of the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, voting for which will begin on Saturday morning.
Polling will be held in 73 assembly constituencies spread across 15 districts in the western part of the state, beginning 7 a.m.
In the first of the seven-phased staggered elections in the state, a total of 839 candidates are in fray.
The mMaximum number of candidates are in Agra South where 26 are trying their luck to be part of the 17th state assembly. The least number of candidates – six each – are from Hastinapur, Iglas and Loni seats.
Amid heightened fears of poll violence, already proved true by a spate of incidents in the past few days, an unprecedented security deployment has been made in sensitive areas — Shamli, Aligarh, Muzaffarnagar, Mathura, Bulandshahr and Agra.
In all 826 companies of central forces have been stationed for the first phase of polling.
The campaigning for this phase had many firsts.
This was for the first time in the electoral history of the region that former Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, now a mere ‘mentor’ for the Samajwadi Party (SP), did not campaign.
So also Congress President Sonia Gandhi who did not turn up due to ill-health.
The duo of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav-Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi campaigned jointly.
While Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, despite named ‘star campaigner’ did not join in the canvassing, Kannauj MP Dimple Yadav and veteran actress Jaya Bachchan did campaign for party candidates.
In the 2012 assembly polls, of the 73 seats — SP had won 24 seats, Bahujan Samaj Party 23, Bharatiya Janata Party 12, Rashtriya Lok Dal 9 and Congress 5 seats .
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had won all the 12 seats here and many veterans like Ajit Singh were drowned in the saffron surge.
There are 2.59 crore voters who would exercise there franchise on February 11, of which 1.42 crore are men, 1.17 crore women and 1,511 from the third gender.
Prominent seats which have attracted attention, include Noida from where Pankaj Singh, son of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is contesting; Mathura where senior Congress leader Pradip Mathur is locked in a direct battle with Shrikant Sharma, the national spokesman of the BJP and Sardhana where BJP’s Sangeet Som is challenged by SP’s Atul Pradhan.
In Meerut city, former state BJP President and sitting MLA Laxmikant Bajpayi is being challenged in a triangular contest by SP-Congress combine’s Rafiq Ansari and BSP’s Pankaj Jolly.
Kairana, Thana Bhawan and Sikandarabad are other high-profile seats.