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Stakes high for BJP; litmus test for SP-BSP in 7-phase UP LS poll

Stakes high for BJP; litmus test for SP-BSP in 7-phase UP LS poll

Lucknow, Mar 10 (PTI) With the Election Commission Sunday announcing the Lok Sabha poll schedule, the ball was set rolling in Uttar Pradesh where the stakes of the ruling BJP is high as the state sends the highest number of 80 MPs to the lower house of Parliament.With a major part of the gruelling exercise falling in the hot summer months of April and May, the fierce battle of ballots in all likelihood will scorch the electoral arena across the state.The keenly watched contest will test the popularity of the fledging opposition alliance of once bitter rivals Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, who have joined hands to take on the BJP, which had scooped a massive 73 seats in the 2014 election along with its ally, the Apna Dal.The state will have seven-phase polling on April 11, 18, 23 and 29 and May 6, 12 and 19. Counting of votes will take place on May 23.With the announcement of the poll schedule, the Model Code of Conduct came into force with immediate effect Sunday.Interestingly, hours ahead of the Model Code coming into effect, the Uttar Pradesh government hurriedly announced the names of top office bearers of certain commissions, councils and corporations by nominating people owing allegiance to the ruling BJP or its ally Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP).A UP government spokesperson said names of 72 people have been announced for various posts in 22 commissions, councils and corporations in the state.A notable appointment was of Arvind Rajbhar, who has been made the chairman of UP Small Industries Corporation Ltd, apparently to soothe the ruffled feathers of his father and UP Cabinet minister Om Prakash Rajbhar, whose SBSP has often embarrassed the ruling BJP despite being an ally of the NDA.Another office bearer of SBSP Rana Ajit Pratap Singh has been made the chairman of UP Beej Vikas Nigam (UP Seeds Development Corporation).In a similar fast-paced development, the UP Raj Bhawan gave its nod to a hurriedly brought ordinance on UP revenue code pertaining to lease of agricultural land and succession of land owners.Realising that the route to power at the Centre is through Uttar Pradesh, political parties have been wooing voters even before the dates were announced, with the BJP trying to retain its grand performance in 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 assembly polls.Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the 71 BJP lawmakers who won in UP. The Samajwadi party won five, the Congress two and Mayawati's BSP failed to open account.The BJP followed up its Lok Sabha feat by ousting the Samajwadi Party in the state election in 2017.But, this time, the BJP faces a resurgent opposition that has scripted back-to-back victories in last year's Lok Sabha and assembly bypolls. Two of those wins were particularly sweet for the opposition the BJP lost Gorakhpur, the base of its star campaigner Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and Phulpur, held by his deputy Keshav Maurya.Political observers will like to keenly watch how the alliance of Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party and Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party performs.The Congress too is into the fray more seriously this time with the grand old party for decades an also-ran in UP announcing the debut of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as its campaign in-charge for the eastern parts of the state, along with Jyotiraditya Scindia in the western belt.Priyanka Gandhi, sister of Congress president Rahul Gandhi, has so far confined herself to Amethi and Rae Bareli, the constituencies of her brother and her mother Sonia Gandhi, respectively.The Congress is banking on Priyanka Gandhi's charisma and connect and her striking resemblance to her grandmother Indira Gandhi to improve its score in Uttar Pradesh. It managed to retain only the Gandhis' seats in 2014 and anything more than that will be an improvement.Confronting an aggressive opposition, the BJP has pulled up its socks with party president Amit Shah claiming that the party will win at least 74 this time one more than last time.Over the past few months, Prime Minister Modi has focused on UP and his constituency Varanasi.Besides, the party has managed to appease upset smaller allies like Apna Dal(S) and Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party that had felt "neglected", BJP spokesperson Hero Bajpai claimed.Adityanath and his government went all out to organise the Kumbh Mela, a massive religious gathering at Prayagraj that draws millions for a dip at the confluence of holy rivers, in the run up to the Lok Sabha election.With young voters likely to play a key role in the poll, political parties in Uttar Pradesh have set their sights on them and are trying to reach out with various programmes and campaigns.A spokesperson for the ruling BJP said the party believes young voters not only actively participate in the electoral process, but also act as a catalyst for others to cast their votes.With 'Mera Pehla Vote Modi Ko (My First Vote For Modi)' campaign, the BJP hopes the young electors will help it replicate its 2014 performance.As per Election Commission data, there are 14.40 crore voters in Uttar Pradesh and the count of first-time voters stands at approximately 45 lakh, of whom 16.75 lakh are in the age bracket of 18-19 years. PTI NAV SMI ABHABH