55 constituencies will see polling in the first phase today; opinion polls banned in the state till 5 pm
The mother of all elections since the 2009 parliamentary battle starts in Uttar Pradesh today, with the outcome bound to cast a long shadow on national politics.
Bad times ahead? Political pundits predict that Mayawati's party may
be the biggest loser in this election. File Pic
Although only one of five states going to the polls in February-March, the fight for UP's 403-seat assembly has overshadowed the entire staggered balloting. BJP president Nitin Gadkari has called the UP election a 'semi-final' ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
With Chief Minister and BSP supremo Mayawati facing a splintered, but aggressive opposition, most pundits fear a split verdict -- and a possible coalition government.
Similar fears in 2007, however, were unfounded, with Mayawati pulling off a veritable coup: she led the BSP to an outright win.
Today, 55 of the 403 assembly constituencies will see polling in the first phase, with 1.70 crore people eligible to vote. The areas which will see balloting include Pilibhit, Lakhimpur Kheri, Bahraich, Shravasti, Balrampur, Siddharth Nagar, Maharajganj and Kushinagar.
The rest of the sprawling state, India's most populous, will go to the polls over six more rounds, the process ending March 3. The votes will be counted March 6.
Although a state election, the UP battle is vital for every major political party, in particular the scandal-hit Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
A poor showing by the Congress will weaken it nationally and trip its general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who has been leading a spirited campaign across the length and breadth of the state.
He has aggressively taken on every other player -- BJP, Mayawati and her BSP and the Samajwadi Party -- in a desperate bid to raise the fortunes of the Congress that has been out of power in the state since 1989.
The Samajwadi Party is widely considered the biggest challenger to the BSP with the potential to emerge on top in the event of a splintered vote.
The BJP, whose national growth coincided with its spread in UP from the 1980s, has unleashed all its leaders in the state barring Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. While poll pundits admit that Mayawati's Dalit vote base remains as cemented as ever, but it will be a miracle if she wins on her own again.
The realignment of constituencies has made poll predictions difficult. Adding to the complexity in the state is the entry of the largely Muslim Peace Party that has fielded a large number of candidates.
Do not share your opinion
The EC has banned the publication of opinion polls regarding the first phase of the assembly elections till 5 pm. The ban, which came into effect at 5 pm on Monday, is applicable both to print and electronic media.
However, exit polls have been banned for all phases till the seventh phase of balloting in the state ends at 5 pm on March 3.