**Lucknow:** Marked by caustic, high decibel campaigning, which saw the political discourse plumbing to low levels at times, the long-drawn polling process in the most populous and politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh came to an end on Wednesday.
With an overall voting percentage of 61 per cent across its seven phases for the 403 assembly seats, slightly higher than the 59.5 per cent registered in the 2012 assembly elections, the last phase saw heavy balloting in all the 40 seats spread across seven districts in the Poorvanchal region.
The last round brought the curtains down on one of the most closely contested, and staggered poll process in recent times. All parties tried to give their best to win over the electorate.
Caught in a bitter family feud and power struggle in the ruling Samajwadi Party, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav took over the party’s reins by knocking out his father Mulayam Singh Yadav and uncle Shivpal Yadav and later aligning with Congress.
The party contested on 298 seats. Akhilesh’s wife Dimple, who is a lawmaker from Kannauj, actively campaigned while Mulayam Singh chose to campaign only for friend Parasnath Yadav, brother Shivpal Yadav and daughter-in-law Aparna.
Akhilesh Yadav claims that they will form the next government with even a better mandate than last time, when it won 224 seats.
The Congress, which took out a long ‘kisan yatra’ from Deoria to Delhi, which became infamous for locals taking away the cots during the ‘khaat sabhaas’, had slammed the SP, BSP and BJP government by saying “27 saal, UP behaal”. The party came down from the high pedestal to enter into an alliance with the SP and they got 105 seats to contest after a hard bargain.
Many feel the Congress, with a non-existent organisational structure, got a good deal. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi addressed many rallies during the polls and even held four roadshows with Akhilesh Yadav. He addressed two pressers with the UP Chief Minister but the last one, two days before the final phase, was called off without any explanation offered.
Though Congress put the name of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in its star campaigner list, she campaigned only in Rae Bareli. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, due to ill health, did not campaign and just sent a letter and later a video urging voters in the Gandhi pocketborough of Amethi and Rae Bareli to vote for the party.
The BJP put up its might into the elections with Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding two roadshows, taking the rounds of various temples and ashrams and addressing 23 rallies – his highest so far for any state assembly elections.
BJP president Amit Shah also addressed 200 big and small rallies with the state functionaries also chipping in with hundreds of rallies, churning the entire state. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the BJP, was active too and its cadres were pitching in for a BJP victory.
In the run up, several thousand km were traversed by state leaders through ‘parivartan yatras’ which covered the entire state and many ‘MBC and OBC conventions’.
Handed a duck in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati too fought the assembly elections with elan, addressing more than 50 rallies and appealing to the Dalit voter base to ensure that she romped home to power this time.
Aware that the colossal monuments and parks she made in her 2007-2012 regime had cost her a big loss, Mayawati promised not to make these anymore and her campaign revolved around the poor law and order in the state. The Dalit leader promised the return of the rule of law in Uttar Pradesh and also slammed Prime Minister Modi for what she claimed was “fooling people through speeches”.
While there is no dearth of issues for a large state like Uttar Pradesh, by the end of the second phase, the polity and the electorate appeared largely split on community lines as polarisation crept in. The statement on ‘shamshaan-kabristaan’ and ‘Holi-Ramzaan’ by Modi added fuel to the fire. Sustained barbs from the likes of senior SP leader and state cabinet minister Azam Khan, Lok Sabha members of the BJP Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj vitiated the atmosphere even further.
Akhilesh Yadav added to the verbal exchanges with his ‘gadha’ (ass) jibe and RJD chief Lalu Prasad, who campaigned for SP-Congress candidates at some places, called the Prime Minister a ‘hijra’ (eunuch) and Amit Shah a ‘genda’ (rhinoceros). Shah returned the fire by exhorting people to get rid of KaSaB (Congress, SP and BSP).
In the last few legs of polling, UP’s powerful and tainted Minister Gayatri Prajapati became the centre point of politics after the Supreme Court ordered the state police to lodge an FIR against him in a gang rape case.
The Minister who is contesting from Amethi on a SP ticket was riled by opposition as a “glaring example of kaam bolta hai of the Akhilesh government”. He has yet not been arrested despite a non bailable warrant against him for the last many days.
A large section of the 14.05 crore voters in Uttar Pradesh cast their votes during polling on February 11, 15, 19, 23, 27 and March 4 and 8. The results are just two days away now.