The BJP, BSP and SP-Congress alliance are locked in a triangular contest in the first phase of polling in Uttar Pradesh. Photograph: (AFP)
Polling ended in western Uttar Pradesh across 73 assembly constituencies with stray incidents of violence reported from Baghpat and Meerut
The first phase of polling in western Uttar Pradesh came to an end today across 73 assembly constituencies in India's northern state. The Election Commission said 64 per cent voters exercised their franchise in the first of the seven-phase UP polls, with some stray incidents of violence reported from Baghpat and Meerut.
The voter turnout had begun to pick up around 2pm with 45 per cent people in the state having exercised their franchise. A total of 2.60 crore voters, including over 1.17 crore women are eligible to cast their ballot to decide the fate of 839 candidates in the first phase of polling which consists of seven phases.
There were reports of violence in Baghpat where RLD workers tried to obstruct voters from exercising their franchise, the police quickly took control of the situation and filed FIR against three RLD workers.
Till 1:00 pm, 42 per cent voting was completed in Muzaffarnagar, 46 per cent in Shamli and 41.8 per cent in Firozabad.
Women show their fingers marked with ink after casting their votes at a polling station in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh. (AFP)
Polling was delayed in three stations in Mathura and Baghpat as EVMs were not working in the morning.
The electorate will cast their votes in 73 assembly constituencies spread across 15 districts of Western UP, also called the "Jatland" and the sugar belt of North India.
Elaborate security arrangements have been made for smooth polling, especially in the communally-sensitive areas of Shamli, Aligarh, Muzaffarnagar, Mathura, Bulandshahr and Agra.
Police have reportedly detained BJP candidate Sangeet Som's brother for carrying a pistol inside poll booth.
Sardhana(Meerut): Police detain Gagan Som, brother of BJP candidate Sangeet Som for carrying a pistol inside poll booth #uppolls2017— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) February 11, 2017
The BJP, BSP and SP-Congress alliance are locked in a triangular contest in the state.
The contest is seen as a key test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi halfway into his first term as prime minister.
The BJP hopes to increase its tally of seats in the Upper House, Rajya Sabha at the time of the biennial elections in 2018. Nearly 70 members are expected to retire and a significant 10 will retire from UP. The BJP has 56 seats to Congress’ 60 seats in the Rajya Sabha.
A defeat in UP will, therefore, dent Modi government’s efforts to win more seats in Rajya Sabha and pass crucial legislations which are stuck because of the lack of majority.
The state, which accounts for the largest number of seats in the Lower House (Lok Sabha) voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Modi-led BJP in the 2014 general elections.
This time, the elections in the state are also being seen as a referendum on Modi's controversial demonetisation of high-value notes, a move aimed at combating tax evasion by the rich that has also hit poor rural communities hard.
This time around the BJP faces a major challenge from the alliance between the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress. Both parties are capitalising on the youthful image of the two leaders.
BJP's strategies in the communally-sensitive regions of the West have been further put to test by a resurgent RLD of Jat leader Chaudhary Ajit Singh, who has been trying hard to regain the lost support of the community.
With Dalit leader Mayawati-led BSP fielding Muslim candidates in 18 out of 73 seats and SP-Congress alliance giving Muslims a face in 12 constituencies, it's a bitter battle between the two for wooing the minority vote bank.
The Congress, whose 46-year-old Rahul Gandhi has campaigned alongside Yadav, desperately needs a win after a dismal performance in 2014.
"The government will be judged on the popularity or lack of popularity of its demonetisation policy in India's most populous state," said Ashok Malik, a fellow with think-tank Observer Research Foundation.
"There will also be other factors at play in these state polls, but Modi's BJP will be judged in comparison to its performance in the state in 2014."
Voting will be staggered over several weeks, with results out on March 11, and pollsters put the BJP neck and neck with Yadav's Samajwadi Party and Congress.
Malik cautioned against discounting Mayawati, a low-caste leader known as the "Dalit Queen" whose Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was once seen as unassailable in the state.
With so much at stake, Modi has personally led the campaigning for his party.
But some observers said the BJP's failure to put forward a local face could backfire, as it did in the neighbouring state of Bihar in 2015.
"If it loses UP, it will be this factor that killed its hopes," said journalist R Jagannathan in an opinion piece for the Times of India daily.
"The electorate knows it will get Akhilesh Yadav as chief minister if the SP- Congress coalition wins, but it is not sure what will emerge from the black box if BJP wins."
Voting in Uttar Pradesh will be done in seven phases - February 11, 15, 19, 23, 27, March 4 and 8. The counting of votes will take place on March 11.
(WION with inputs from agencies)